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Time right for Key’s Fiji visit

Wednesday 8 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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FIJI – New Zealand Prime Minister John Key believes the time is right for his visit to Fiji this week – even though democracy there is “not perfect”.

Key’s official visit will be the first by a New Zealand Prime Minister since Frank Bainimarama overthrew the Fijian government in a military coup in 2006.

Two years ago, Bainimarama became Fiji’s democratically elected prime minster but his government’s treatment of opposition politicians and the press remains an issue.

Key told reporters recently that Prime MinisterBainimarama’s military coup was ancient history, and that he was going to Fiji because it returned to democracy when it held elections in 2014.

He said the time was right for the highest-level diplomatic relations to resume.

“Actually, Frank Bainimarama’s been quite popular and doing quite well there, I’m not saying it’s absolutely perfect, but there are probably quite a few countries in the world that have a form of democracy that we wouldn’t say is perfect.

“The advice that we got at the time was that the elections were free and fair insomuch as people could actually vote, and we’re at the point now where we have accepted that first move,” Key said.

Fiji has blacklisted some New Zealand journalists for their reporting and Key said he may raise the issue with his counterpart.

“We believe absolutely passionately in the freedom of the press, and the press should be free to travel.”Labour leader Andrew Little had no qualms about Key’s visit, as long as human rights were at the forefront.

“Part of John Key’s dialogue has to be to take up those human rights issues – if we want to engage with Fiji or we want genuine improvement in the relationship it’s got to be on our values, which are the values of freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right of citizens to do as they wish.”

In the Fijian election in 2014 voters were presented with a voting paper that looked like a Sudoku puzzle with a grid of three-digit numbers – the numbers matched candidates but voters were not allowed to take the numbers into the booths when they voted.

New Zealand First leader and former foreign minister Winston Peters said that was proof the Fijian election in 2014 was not free and was demonstrably unfair.

“Well, lets be honest – if you have an election where the people vote for a number, and not a name, that’s almost unique.”

“Now, Mr Key might think that is an adequate recovery of democracy – I personally don’t, and no serious person would.”

- RNZI