Kevin Rudd has issued a stern warning to Fiji’s determined military leader Frank Bainimarama to do the right thing by his troubled country.
‘He knows what he must do,’ Australia’s prime minister says of Bainimarama, in power since a 2006 coup and refusing to heed regional warnings to return Fiji to democracy.
In an editorial released on Wednesday, Mr Rudd said it was ‘absurd’ to delay elections by five years, and that Bainimarama had been telling insiders it could take another five more.
‘This is the behaviour of a military junta,’ he wrote.
Fiji became the first country to be suspended from the regional Pacific Islands Forum this month after repeated failures to go to the polls.
Bainimarama last month cast aside Fiji’s constitution, sacked the judiciary, censored the media and set back elections.
The military man has said the delay was necessary to reform an unjust electoral system, reforms Rudd says Australia does not oppose in principle.
It was more important whether Fijians want them, said Mr Rudd, but under current public and media censorship this is a decision they don’t have a say in.
‘Unfortunately at the present time the people of Fiji are unable to express their views freely, either through elected representatives or in the media,’ he wrote.
‘In any event it is absurd to suggest that up to five more years are needed to prepare for elections.’
The opinion piece was circulated to Fiji media but is unlikely to meet the regime’s criteria for ‘positive, unsensational’ news.
Other points made include what Mr Rudd called Bainimarama’s ‘incalculable damage’ to Fiji’s international reputation and its economy.
Up to 40 per cent of Fijians were living in basic-needs poverty, he said.
‘That hurts women and children especially,’ Mr Rudd said.
He said Bainimarama had to take responsibility for the recent failure of discussions which it had been hoped would speed up reform of the electoral process.
‘Unfortunately, Commodore Bainimarama wanted to hand-pick those who were to participate, and to exclude some of Fiji’s biggest political parties,’ Mr Rudd wrote.
‘This is not a viable basis for genuine dialogue and Commodore Bainimarama must bear personal responsibility for the failure of this process.’
In closing, the prime minister said the forum’s door remained open to Fiji’s interim government in the hope the country can ‘quickly return to its place as a leader of our region’.
‘But the onus now is on Commodore Bainimarama to do the right thing. He knows what he must do.’
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