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Fiji back from the cold?

FiMCG anticipates Fiji’s full Forum participation

Fiji is coming back in from the cold. Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s announcement that he would step down as military commander on February 28, then on March 1 provide details of the new party he would lead at the election in September, accelerated a regional move already under way following the registration of more than half-a-million voters. The Pacific Islands Forum’s Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) with Fiji, which was established when the country was suspended from the Forum following the December 5, 2006 coup, thus held its most positive visit so far to Suva in mid-February.

Significant progress:  The foreign ministers of Australia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, with New Zealand’s Murray McCully as chairman, issued a statement that anticipated “welcoming Fiji’s full participation in the Pacific Islands Forum” after free and fair elections, concluding that the country had made “significant progress” towards its return to democracy. The next Forum annual leaders’ summit is taking place unusually early this year, at the end of July in Koror, Palau. The leaders are then likely to agree with a mechanism to lift Fiji’s suspension swiftly after a government is formed in Suva. The return of Fiji is likely to trigger a reassessment of the range of costly regional organisations that have proliferated in recent years, largely because of the Bainimarama government’s fretting at its suspension from mainstream bodies—also including the Commonwealth. The Pacific Islands Development Forum, that Fiji itself principally funded, may fade away. And the Port Vila-based Melanesian Spearhead Group, which has retained Fiji as a full member and which has begun to create a parallel infrastructure to the Forum, is likely to find a more modest operational level.

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