The Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) visited Fiji today. The MCG met with Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Interim Minister of Foreign Affairs of Fiji, Mr. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Interim Attorney General of Fiji, political leaders, representatives of civil society organisations and trade unions.
The MCG thanked the Fiji Interim Government for hosting the Group and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat for making the programme arrangements. The MCG also thanked the political leaders, representatives of civil society groups and trade unions for meeting with them.
Ministers noted the progress that Fiji had made in 2012 towards elections, including the extensive consultation and work of the independent Constitution Commission, which had generated a level of popular engagement and interest which was unprecedented since 2006. In that context, Ministers expressed concerns about departures from Fiji's previously announced Roadmap process and emphasised the need for a constitution building process that enjoyed the support of the people of Fiji and the respect of the international community.
Ministers recalled assurances from the Fiji Interim Government at the time of the last MCG visit to Fiji in May 2012, including that elections would be held no later than September 2014, that there would be no media restrictions in relation to the constitutional consultation process and that elections would be free and fair. Ministers were pleased to have the commitment reiterated in today's meeting.
Ministers noted the expectations of the people of Fiji and the international community for free and fair elections should be achieved through:
- A final version of the new constitution that credibly takes public views into account;
- An independent elections oversight mechanism (Supervisor/Commission) established without further delay;
- Free and fair participation by political parties in the electoral process commencing with fair and timely registration;
- Independent election monitoring;
- Freedom of expression, media and assembly in the lead up to the election and beyond; and
- A general acceptance of the election outcome by the people of Fiji.
Ministers emphasised the need for citizens and political parties to be able to nominate for elections, meet freely, campaign openly and to participate without hindrance in the political process and public debate.
Ministers noted that the decision to extend the consultation period for the draft constitution and the announcement that permits were not required for political meetings to discuss the draft constitution were welcome recent steps, and indicative of the sorts of actions which would be watched closely by the Forum and the international community when measuring progress towards a restoration of democracy in Fiji.
Ministers reaffirmed Forum Leaders' willingness to support Fiji's return to democracy, including through assistance with elections, provided that the Forum could be satisfied that genuine progress was being made.
As requested by Forum Leaders, the MCG will provide a report to Forum Leaders in advance of the Forum Leaders Meeting in Majuro in September on the situation in Fiji, noting the Fiji Interim Government's commitment to elections in 2014 and the positive steps taken, and the further steps required to ensure a credible democratic outcome in September 2014, if not earlier.
Ministers reaffirmed the Forum's intention to remain engaged with Fiji and their desire to continue a constructive dialogue with Fiji in the lead-up to elections.
Participants in the MCG visit were Hon. Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand and Chair of the MCG; Senator the Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs of Australia; Hon. Rimbink Pato, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration of Papua New Guinea; Hon. Tuisugaletaua Ali'imalemanu Sofara Aveau, Minister of Communication and Information Technology of Samoa; Hon. Apisai Ielemia, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Tourism, Environment and Labour of Tuvalu; and Hon. Edward Natapei, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Vanuatu.
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