Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth sends a harsh message to the military regime that refusal to hold prompt elections is totally unacceptable, regional experts say.
Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth midnight Tuesday after failing to meet conditions, including resuming a dialogue with opposition groups and holding 2010 elections.
The country’s self-appointed prime minister Frank Bainimarama, who staged a coup in December 2006 to oust the last elected government, has set elections for September 2014.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said suspension was a move taken “in sorrow” but the regime, in failing to meet the conditions, had left the Commonwealth no choice.
Brij Lal, a specialist on Fiji politics at Australian National University, said the move sent a clear message of global opposition to Fiji’s political situation.
“It has a huge symbolic significance as it says in no uncertain terms that what the regime is doing is totally unacceptable to the international community,” said Lal, who is from Suva.
“Frank Bainimarama will try to play it down by saying it doesn’t mean anything but it’s undeniable that it does.”
There are practical implications from the suspension, the most significant of which is exclusion from next year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.
Steven Ratuva, an academic in Pacific studies at the University of Auckland, said the exclusion was unfortunate as it would penalise the people, not the government.
“Fiji is a proud sporting nation and these athletes will already be in the midst of training. This will be a terrible dampener on morale,” Ratuva said.
Full suspension also means Fiji representatives will be excluded from all inter-governmental Commonwealth meetings, and the island will receive no scholarships or technical assistance from its fellow Commonwealth countries, unless it is linked to the establishment of democracy.
Suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum and the halting of aid from the European Union both had a greater impact on the nation.
Fiji has been offered a last life line, a meeting with the Commonwealth’s special representative to the country, Paul Reeves, when he visits Fiji on September 9.
But comments from Bainimarama on Tuesday suggest he has no intention of swaying from elections in five years time as part of his “roadmap for change”.
“The Fiji government believes the roadmap is the only path to ensuring sustainable and true democracy, which includes … to have elections in 2014,” Bainimarama told a Fijian commercial radio station.
Prof Lal said that without flexibility from the regime, next week’s talks were “destined to be, very sadly, a stillborn exercise”.
This is the third Commonwealth ousting for Fiji, which was suspended in 2000 and expelled in 1987 for ten years.