The head of Fiji's National Council of Women has called on Prime Minister John Key to raise democratic shortcomings with Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama on his visit to Suva.
Mr Key starts a two-day visit to Fiji today - a trip described as a milestone in the relationship after a decade long chill following the 2006 coup. It is partly to show support for Fiji holding elections in 2014, although Mr Key has said there are still shortcomings in the democratic process.
Fay Volatabu, the Secretary for Fiji's National Council of Women, said Mr Key should use the trip to push for changes to democratic and electoral processes in time for the next election in 2018. "I'm hoping he will raise issues of human rights, talk about the need for Fiji to be truly democratic and not just pay lip service. I am thankful Fiji has come a long way since 2006 but Mr Key has a very strong position where he could raise these issues and at least have good discussions about how we in Fiji are going to be moving toward real Parliamentary democracy come 2018."
The 2014 ballot papers were criticised because three digit numbers were used instead of names for the candidates and voters had to remember their candidate's number. Another concern was a requirement for parties to have 5000 members to register. Ms Volatabu, who stood for the Opposition National Federation Party in 2014, said the current rules around elections made it difficult for Opposition parties and candidates.
Ms Volatabu said the Government's decision this week to suspend NFP MP Tupou Draunidalo until the 2018 election for calling the Minister of Education an idiot was another disturbing development. "Have there been discussions about the freedom of press, the suppressing of Parliamentary privileges and the ability of member of Parliament to day what they want in Parliament?"
Mr Key said as far as New Zealand was able to assess, the 2014 elections were free and fair although he accepted it was not the level of democracy seen in some other countries.
"I don't think there's any doubt Frank is quite popular in Fiji. I think he's been reasonably responsive to the issues Fiji has faced." He referred to Bainimarama's handling of Cyclone Winston and the 45 Fijian peacekeepers taken hostage by Syrian insurgents in 2014.
Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer echoed the concern about the treatment of Ms Draunidalo, saying it was "disproportionate." He said Mr Key should raise that as well as ongoing media restrictions. He said New Zealand had always stood beside Fiji at time of disaster, such as Cyclone Winston. "That is all the more reason to speak up when things aren't right rather than looking the other way."
Mr Key has already said he intends to raise Fiji's ban of some New Zealand and Australian media, such as TVNZ's longstanding Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver.