Dec 18, 2017 Last Updated 3:31 AM, Dec 18, 2017

RECENT events in Fiji point to a widening gulf that has developed between Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s Fiji First Party- led government and the country’s Opposition political parties. Six prominent public figures, three of them leaders of Fiji’s three largest Opposition political parties were detained by police for 24-hours over a weekend in Suva in early September with varying explanations for the detentions.

By way of official government comment on the detentions, Prime Minister Bainimarama told the nation that the six men had been detained for attending a public meeting without the proper permit as required by Fiji’s Public Order Act. Police, on the other hand, explained that the detentions were to enable them to clarify whether some of the statements made at the public meeting "could affect the safety and security of all Fijians.

The detainees, Mr Sitiveni Rabuka - leader of the major Opposition political party, the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), Dr Biman Prasad – parliamentary leader of the National Federation Party (NFP), Mr Mahendra Chaudhary – leader of the Fiji Labour Party (FLP), former academic and one time Deputy Prime Minister - Dr Tupeni Baba, and prominent trade unionist – Mr Attar Singh, were panelists at a meeting to discuss Fiji’s Constitution.

The sixth detainee was Mr Jone Dakuvula, chair of the non-governmental oganisation - Pacific Dialogue - which organised the meeting coinciding with Fiji’s celebration of its new public holiday - Constitution Day. Prime Minister Bainimarama and Fiji’s Attorney-General, Mr Aiyaz SayedKhaiyum had also been formally invited to attend the Pacific Dialogue forum on Fiji’s Constitution but, according to Dakuvula, had both declined.

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Judge questions handling of case by PM and his deputy

A LANDMARK court case last May in Tuvalu which saw the jailing of a former prime minister who is a sitting opposition MP has ended abruptly when the island’s high court declared the conviction as “manifestly unsafe,” quashed the 12 month jail term and ordered no further court trials. In so doing, stand in Judge Norman Franzi of Melbourne, Australia expressed grave concerns at the behaviour of the current Prime Minister of Tuvalu Enele Sopoaga, and his deputy Maatia Toafa, also a former prime minister in the investigations of the case.

“I note in passing that two of Tuvalu’s Prime Ministers took part in the preparation or investigation carried out for this case,” said Judge Franzi. “I consider that contrary to the separate of powers in the Westminster System of Government. There is material in the appeal book volume 3 page 711 that indicated that [then] Prime Minster Maatia Toafa had coerced an email response from John Chen [a Taiwanese businessman].

“The email was tendered as an exhibit not as to the truth of its contents. In the Senior Magistrate’s judgement the email was relied on as to the truth of its contents. Prime Minster Sopoaga in appeal book volume 1 at page 121 gave evidence recorded in the Senior Magistrate’s notes that “I’m accountable to Tuvalu. I have every obligation to seek this information.”

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SOLOMON Islands preparation toward hosting the 2023 Pacific Games could harmonise the deep political division between China and Taiwan. Well, that is if both countries decide to assist Solomon Islands build the needed infrastructure before the premier ‘Olympic’ type Games for the South Pacific region.

The least we expect is for the two countries to halt their assistance to Solomon Islands toward the Games and leave the host with no proper sports infrastructure constructed before the 2023 Pacific Games. The gap between the powerful People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan could be narrowed if they both agreed to assist Solomon Islands As it stands, Solomon Islands does not have proper stadiums and sports facilities to be able host the Pacific Games with less than seven years to go.

Solomon Islands has only six years to identify venues and build the main sports stadium and other sports facilities to cater for the 24 sports it will host in 2023. With 33 years of diplomatic ties with ROC of Taiwan, Solomon Islands has agreed on a deal with Taipei for the release of SBD $1.6 million to build the main stadium for the Pacific Games.

The Taiwanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr David Tawai Lee in July 2016 said Taipei will work with Honiara to ensure Solomon Islands successful hosting of the 2023 Pacific Games. Pacific neighbours Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea who have diplomatic ties to Mainland China have successfully hosted past Games due largely to financial assistance from Peoples Republic of China.

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Jittery race

Turnbull holds on

THE count hadn’t been completed yet in Australia’s triennial federal election and questions were already being raised about party leadership. How long would Malcolm Turnbull be able to hold on as head of the Liberal Party? Would Bill Shorten step aside as leader of Labor? Turnbull’s position was looking shaky because he had called the double dissolution election and exhorted Australians to vote for the kind of stable government that he said only his coalition could provide.

He was also anticipating a massive win. He won but it wasn’t the decisive victory he’d been hoping for. His partnership with the Nationals staggered over the line in a protracted count, taking 76 seats in the 150-seat lower House of Representatives. Not only had Turnbull not received the mandate he was looking for, he was facing a Senate that was even more hostile than before.

There were misgivings too about his ability as leader because his party had come out of the election with less seats than it had when it went in. Labor, on the other hand, has a policy of declaring its party leadership vacant in the event of a federal election defeat. The result meant its leadership itself was up for a vote.

The party rallied around Shorten. Anthony Albanese, the man who was expected to mount a challenge, didn’t. What he also did not do was rule out a contest further down the road. What this points to is a future of instability at the federal level in two of Australia’s main political parties. More importantly for the country, it means Turnbull will be a distracted Prime Minister. 

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Storm warning

Fury over West Papua flag

ON July 13, Indonesian delegates — angry because the Morning Star Flag, emblem of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), was flown alongside other members’ flags — walked out of the first day of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) leaders’ summit. The ULMWP is a coalition of Papuan freedom fighters demanding independence from Indonesian control.

It and Indonesia have both applied for full membership status in the MSG, but for very different reasons. ULMWP hopes the MSG can bring international attention to their struggle for self-determination, while Indonesia wants to shore up its economic position in the region. The Indonesian diplomats demanded the flag be taken down, but the organizers ignored them, and the opening ceremony proceeded without the Indonesian delegation.

The summit resulted in a split decision over the ULMWP’s membership status. Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) of New Caledonia strongly support ULMWP, while Fiji and Papua New Guinea (PNG) — nations Indonesia has courted with sweetheart economic deals and financial support — oppose it.

The Indonesian delegations’ dramatic exit and the ensuing vote over ULMWP’s membership can help us understand long-standing political fault lines in the region that date back to the 1970s anticolonization wave.

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