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

Labour's David Shearer says a possible state visit by Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama should be put on hold

Prime Minister John Key and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama exchange rugby themed gifts in Fiji. PHOTO/NZH
Prime Minister John Key and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama exchange rugby themed gifts in Fiji. PHOTO/NZH

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer says a state visit by Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama should be "quietly put on hold" until concerns about the Opposition politicians in Fiji are resolved.

Over the weekend five people - including the leaders of two opposition parties and a trade union leader - were taken into custody in Fiji after taking part in a public political forum.

RNZI has reported all had since been released but the Director of Public Prosecutions was reviewing the cases, raising concerns of politically motivated charges to prevent them contesting the next election in 2018.

Prime Minister John Key had invited Bainimarama to come for a formal state visit while he was in Suva in June this year.

Key said that invitation still stands and it was possible Bainimarama would come for the Bledisloe Cup rugby match in October.

Shearer said it was important not to over-react and Bainimarama should be free to make a visit to watch the rugby. However, a formal 'state' visit should be delayed until the situation cleared.

"While we should not overstate what has happened nor should we sit back and say everything is perfectly normal because it clearly is not.

"I think it would be probably a good idea to just quietly put the state visit on hold for a while.

"I just don't believe right now that Prime Minister Bainimarama quite understands what democracy is all about."

After the incidents in Fiji over the weekend, Foreign Minister Murray McCully told the Fijian Government New Zealand was taking a "close interest" and voiced concern about freedom of political expression.

The European Union Delegation for the Pacific has also raised concerns, urging "full respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Fiji".

Those taken into custody were National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad and Sodelpa leader Sitiveni Rabuka - a former Prime Minister and coup leader.

The others were head of the Fiji Council of Trade Unions Attar Singh, former politician Tupeni Baba and civil society advocate Jone Dakavula. Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry had also handed himself in and been questioned.

It came in the same week Bainimarama again snubbed the Pacific Islands Forum meeting because of his objections to New Zealand and Australia taking part.

On the same weekend, Fiji also announced it was pulling out of the Pacific-wide Pacer Plus trade negotiations because of concerns about Australia and New Zealand.

That was on the eve of a visit to Fiji by Trade Minister Todd McClay, who has now called off his trip.

Shearer said in the space of a few days Opposition leaders had been jailed, Bainimarama had appointed himself Foreign Affairs Minister in a Cabinet reshuffle and Fiji had withdrawn from Pacer Plus.

"That seems to me to be more Bainimarama saying 'I'm in charge here. I make the decisions'."

Bainimarama visited New Zealand in 2014 to campaign for expat Fijian voters living in New Zealand but has not visited in his capacity as Fiji's Prime Minister.

- NZ Herald

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