Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Fijian advocate speaks out against restrictions

Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Photo / Supplied
Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Photo / Supplied

A youth advocate from Fiji used a recent visit to New Zealand to speak out against the restrictions Fiji's military regime has placed on the media, saying that the media needed to be "gutsy" and hold the regime to account.

Tura Lewai was in New Zealand with four other Fijians - including at least three hopeful candidates in a future election - for a Pacific Parliament organised by New Zealand which ended yesterday.

Speaking in a debate on the role of the media, Mr Lewai said that the state of the media in Fiji was "very sad."

"We have a media that is gagged and that is held on the point of a gun. We do not have a free media at all."

He said the media were censored and watched over by the Government. Any who went too far faced steep fines.

"We need media in Fiji that are gutsy. We need media people in Fiji that are brave people, that will hold our Government accountable, and also push them to be transparent."

Fiji's interim regime is currently consulting on its own draft Constitution after rejecting that put up by the Independent Constitution Commission. Commodore Frank Bainimarama has said he will run for Prime Minister and expected his current ministers to make up his party.

Speaking in New Zealand, Fay Volatabu, the General Secretary of Fiji's National Council of Women, said if that was the case he needed to follow the same rules as other candidates and should follow through on his promise to step down from the military to do so.

"If he has the people backing him then he shouldn't fear. If he wants to run, then let it be - but on equal footing with everyone else."

New rules require parties to get 5,000 members before they can register. The names of those who sign up are published, causing fear that the people will be targeted by the regime. Ms Volatabu said people should be brave enough to sign up for political parties, and to speak out if they were punished for it. "It reminds me of High School, all these rules. Take away the PR, take away the regulations and let the people really decide for themselves. Then [the interim regime] will see if the people are really for them, like they claim, or if they are not. But the rules of the game do not allow people to freely play the game. The umpire is a bit biassed and rules are all for the other team."

She was also considering standing in future elections, but her current efforts were trying to ensure that women were represented in the new Constitution.

Another delegate in New Zealand included Nayagodamu Korovou, who founded the National Youth Party in 2009 to fight the 2014 elections and intends to run for Prime Minister.

He has caused controversy by inviting Commodore Frank Bainimarama to lead the party, supporting immunity for those involved in Fiji's coups, and proposing that the head of the military be a Vice-President under a new Constitution. Speaking to the Herald Mr Korovou, 45, said he was committed to a democratic Fiji but believed immunity would help provide a clean break from the coups, allowing Fiji to move on. He said having the head of the Army as Vice President would help provide security both for the country and Parliament because it would give the military a role without bringing it into Parliament.

He said his invitation to Commodore Bainimarama to lead the party was because it represented youth and Bainimarama was trying to build a new Fiji so needed the ideas of the young.

- NZ Herald

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