The only sore spot all along was … media relations

Avril Haines

From political pariah to the most sought after regional leader, Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s transformation has few parallels in modern political history. More often than not, when a military leader ousts a democratically elected government and takes on the reins of power, no matter what the justification, things quickly turn ugly. It doesn’t take long for the concerned country to get sucked into a downward spiral that brings in years if not decades of political instability and economic grief.

Few observers and commentators had ever ventured to predict such a transformation as Prime Minister Bainimarama’s in the months and years after the December 2006 action, when the Laisenia Qarase led government was deposed with the imposition of military rule. Fiji’s winding road toward progress since its independence has been littered with potholes. Every so often there have also been speed bumps. The region got quite used to viewing Fiji as a one step forward, two steps back nation. So it was unsurprising to see so many commentators spout grim forebodings about the region’s most promising economy. Regional big brothers Australia and New Zealand slapped sanctions along with big international and regional bodies like the Commonwealth of Nations and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, besides others. Rather than engage with the new regime by understanding its motivations for the action, the bigger powers chose to follow an isolationist tack instead.

Travel and economic sanctions followed the political suspensions from world bodies. Fiji’s leadership, her administration and by extension, her people themselves, were well and truly turned into the region’s pariahs. The economic sanctions hurt the people of Fiji in the early years.

The sanctions not only affected the long and cordial people to people relationships between New Zealand, Australia and Fiji but also shut Fijians out of regional livelihood initiatives like New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme. Relationships, if any, with the powers that be were probed causing delays in travel. Fijians found it hard to obtain visas even for health related travel.

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We Say is compiled and edited with the oversight of Samisoni Pareti.

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