Australia accused of heavy-handed tactics in pushing for democratic Fiji

Anne Davies in Washington and Cynthia Banham

AUSTRALIA and New Zealand were engaging in “nasty accusations” against Fiji and were “acting with a heavy hand” in trying to force elections, the US representative for American Samoa, alleged during a committee hearing with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

The accusations were made by Eni Faleomavae, a non-voting member of Congress who represents the Pacific territory of American Samoa.
The accusations came as the Pacific Islands Forum was poised to suspend Fiji on May 1, the deadline forum leaders gave Fiji to set a date for elections.

“Having just returned from Fiji for discussions with the interim prime minister of Fiji and with other community leaders of Fiji, I submit that the situation in Fiji is more complex than it appears,” Mr Faleomavae said.

“For too too long, we’ve permitted Australia and New Zealand to take the lead even when Canberra and Auckland operate with such a heavy hand that they are counterproductive to our shared goals,” he said.
“I totally disagree with the nasty accusations that the leaders of New Zealand and Australia have made against Fiji … it makes no sense … for the leaders of New Zealand and Australia to demand early elections for the sake of having elections in Fiji when there are fundamental deficiencies in Fiji’s electoral process which gave rise to three military takeovers and even a civilian-related takeover within the past 20 years. These people are having to live with three separate constitutions.”

Mrs Clinton neither supported his criticism nor rejected it. “With respect to Fiji, I would welcome your advice about Fiji, because our coverage of what’s going on … from Australia, New Zealand in particular, does paint a picture of turmoil and chaos and anti-democratic behaviours by the ruling parties,” Mrs Clinton said. But she added: “What we want is to restore democracy …. and if you have advice as to how we can pursue that, I would welcome it.”
Meanwhile, Toke Talagi, the chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum and Premier of Niue, described Fiji as a “lost cause” in an interview with the Herald. He added: “In my mind Fiji is a lost cause that we must continue to engage but there are limits to what we can do.”

Mr Talagi said the suspension of Fiji from the forum would go ahead. “The leaders have resolved in Papua New Guinea that if on May 1 Fiji does not name a date this year for an election then it will be suspended,” he said.

“The only variation to this that I have sought from leaders is whether given the recent events if we need to act earlier. The answer to this is to wait until the deadline.”

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