The Coalition for Democracy in Fiji has been vocal in it’s opposition to Fiji’s military leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama since the 2006 coup.
But spokesman Nik Naidu tells Bruce Hill that some members are now seeing dialogue and engagement as the best way to test the interim government’s actual commitment to holding free and fair elections next year.
Speaker:Nik Naidu, Coalition for Democracy in Fiji, New Zealand
NAIDU: We have two trains of thought on that obviously. Some of the group in the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji believe that we should not relax the sanctions and actually make them stronger, because until the military relinquish power, we should stay firm and keep the pressure on. Then there’s another train of thought that maybe it’s time to engage now. We’ve had seven years of military rule and maybe we need to give them some encouragement to help them move forward quicker. So yes, we are split in that thinking, and it’s a hard one, because either way it’s a catch 22, you can have egg on your face other way.
HILL: Is there a feeling in the movement that the Fiji interim government is relaxing at all, that is genuinely moving towards free and fair elections next year?
NAIDU: Oh, I don’t think anyone feels that. If anything, as you know, two weeks ago, there was a small peaceful gathering and people were arrested by the security forces and the media is definitely still being fully controlled by the regime, so nothings really changed on the ground. If anything, they’re possibly getting tougher, because there’s less instances and those instances that occur in their view that are against them, they are even harder on and I’m sure people are still being arrested, taken to the barracks and nothings really changed on the ground, just less resistance really.
HILL: Well, given that, is engagement with the interim government something which is actually going to persuade them to change that behaviour. Do you think there are people in the interim government who do genuinely want to hold free and fair elections?
NAIDU: Sure, there are people there who do want democracy, whether they want the democracy that as we understand it or whether they want democracy that returns them back in power. However, free and fair elections mostly probably will take place in my view, but whether the military and the regime that’s currently there, whether they’ll respect the outcome of those elections if they go in a different direction is yet to be seen.
HILL: It appears as if Australia and New Zealand are moving towards greater engagement with interim government in Fiji. Do you think that those governments are perhaps just getting tired of the situation, just want it to go away?
NAIDU: Oh, of course, they’d be wanting it to go away. The other thing is that there’s different levels of engagement and different ways to look at the situation. You have on one side the political solution and the need to move forward politically to get Fiji into some form of government which people have in some way participated in putting into place. The other side is the human rights abuses and whether the country and whether the military has gone back to the barracks or have relinquished power. There’s two separate issues there and the political solution I think everybody wants quickly. Unfortunately, the human rights situation is most probably not going to improve, even if we have free and fair elections, because the military most probably will continue to have control over the country and the other issue, which is even more concerning in Fiji is how do you demilitarise the country and especially the civil service which is now almost completely controlled by military and military personnel.
HILL: Why haven’t ordinary people in Fiji spoken out about what’s happening in the country. They seem to be very quiet about what’s happening in Fiji?
NAIDU: Yeah, you find that historically, Fijian people tend to go “go with the flow” and they don’t seem to show that much interest in politics unless there’s something controversial happening. They seem to have accepted in some way numerous military coups and I always feel that a lot of the good people have left and people in Fiji most probably won’t like to hear me say that, but a lot of the good activists, the people who would have stood up and fought have just had enough over the last 26 years and gradually left and moved away. Because the support has not been coming from the grassroots. The apathy there has been disappointing in Fiji and continues to be.