Editorial: Fijians must take action to oust dictator

Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Photo / Greg Bowker
Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Photo / Greg Bowker

Two occurrences over the past week have highlighted the aberrant and ultimately destructive path being pursued by the Fijian military regime headed by Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

The first was the announcement that Fiji plans to join the hotch-potch of nations that comprises the Non-Aligned Movement, a gesture doubtless calculated to annoy Wellington and Canberra.

The second was the introduction of a grandly titled Media Industry Development Decree. It means, among other things, that the Fiji Times, the country's oldest and largest newspaper, has three months to remove Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd as its owner or face closure.

If the first development borders on farce, the second should remove any lingering illusions about the regime's view of democratic niceties. The decree effectively eliminates freedom of expression in Fiji.

Aside from the restriction on foreign ownership, a tribunal has been established to ensure nothing is printed or broadcast against the "national interest or public order".

In essence, Fijians will no longer know what their rulers are up to. Special attention is being paid to the Fiji Times because, according to the Attorney-General, it has been "the purveyor of negativity, at least for the past three years".

The move against the media is part of an ongoing removal of Fijians' rights. This has included the abrogation of the constitution, the squashing of dissent and the dishonouring of pledges for a return to democracy.

Prime Minister John Key has described the decree as "a step too far". It should persuade his Government that there is no future in kowtowing to Suva. Attempts to offer carrots to Commodore Bainimarama to accelerate a return to democracy have been wilfully misinterpreted as a sign of accepting his regime's legitimacy.

This step should also occasion a rethink by New Zealanders who spend their holidays in Fiji. Tim Pankhurst, of the New Zealand Media Freedom Committee has suggested a boycott.

He has a point. Tourists might like to say that Fijian businesses and jobs should not be penalised for the sins of the regime. But they are undermining their own country's diplomatic efforts.

Fiji's tourism-driven economy attracts 60 per cent of its patronage from New Zealand and Australia. No official boycott can be imposed, nor should it be.

But a rethink by would-be tourists would apply further pressure. And if, ultimately, it is up to the Fijian people to send Commodore Bainimarama back to the barracks, tourists temporarily moving away from Fiji for other Pacific destinations would hammer home a message about the pariah status of their rulers.

Already, the regime is seeking to convince Fijians that they no longer need the support of New Zealand and Australia because of closer ties with China and the Non-Aligned Movement. In reality, it is isolating Fiji from its Pacific neighbours and its traditional friends.

The country may have enjoyed a surge in aid from Beijing, but it will always have far less to offer China than Australia, with its mineral wealth, and New Zealand, which enjoys a free-trade agreement. Approaches to the Non-Aligned Movement are even less likely to produce anything of lasting value to Fiji.

The cultivation of such ties is a product of the regime's annoyance at being suspended from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum, and of being subjected to sanctions by New Zealand and Australia. It is an irrational policy that can only bode ill.

For Fiji's good, international pressure for a return to democracy must continue. Increasingly, however, it is apparent that ordinary Fijians must assert themselves. New Zealanders should act in what, in the end, will be that people's best interests.

- NZ Herald

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