Helen Clark has cautioned Frank Bainimarama to heed the lesson of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe as the Pacific Islands Forum meets to decide his fate.
The leaders at the forum in Niue will consider today whether to support a report on Fiji by Pacific foreign ministers - and Commodore Bainimarama has sent strong signals he will pull out of the forum if it is adopted, particularly its insistence that elections are possible by March.
After talking to several other leaders at the forum yesterday, Helen Clark said she doubted the forum would respond to Commodore Bainimarama's threat of withdrawal by watering down its response to his backdown on previous promises to hold the election by March. She likened the situation to the Mugabe regime.
"Eventually as the Commonwealth stuck to its guns and charter and the Harare Declaration, Mr Mugabe left rather than face his peers and determined to get on a better course. Now, one hopes Fiji sees the sense in sticking to its promise to the forum."
The Prime Minister said it was in the forum leaders' hands whether suspension was an option.
She said her soundings from other leaders were clear.
"I have no doubt at all that the Ministerial Contact Group report will be supported. People are very frustrated. They feel the least Bainimarama could have done is come to Niue and explain himself and he hasn't done that."
Her stance was backed by Tongan Prime Minister Fred Sevele, who said the forum did not want to risk weakening its moral mandate to deal with governance issues in its area.
"I think it's one of those things we want to seek everybody's view and take a stand that maintains the strength and relevance of the forum as an international body. No one wants to see a member being suspended or expelled. You have got to explore other ways of moving forward. If there aren't, then I guess that's the next step we will have to look at."
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also spoke out strongly against the Fijian strongman, saying his non-attendance was "a direct and deliberate snub" to the forum.
In his statement threatening to withdraw, the commodore accepted such as move would subject Fijians to further sanctions and international isolation.By Claire Trevett @CTrevettNZH Email Claire