The Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) concluded its two day visit to Fiji today, consistent with the mandate of Pacific Islands Forum Leaders to continue to dialogue and engage with Fiji. The MCG comprises Ministers from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
The MCG thanked the Fiji Government for hosting the Group and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat for making the programme arrangements. The MCG appreciated the opportunity to meet with the Attorney General and Minister for Elections, Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum; the Minister for Foreign Affairs Ratu Inoke Kubuabola accompanied by other Ministers; members of the Electoral Commission; and representatives of registered political parties, trade unions and civil society organisations.
Ministers welcomed significant progress made by Fiji since the Group last visited in April 2013, including important and significant efforts to prepare for elections by 30 September 2014. These include the approval on 6 September 2013 by the President of Fiji of the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji; the registration of four political parties and the enrolment of more than 540,000 voters including enfranchising Fijians living overseas; the appointment of an independent Electoral Commission and the commencement of a dialogue between the Commission and political actors; the bolstering of the Elections Office, with support from technical advisers from Australia, the European Union, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea and the public release of the National Register of Voters.
Ministers looked forward to the early appointment of the Supervisor of Elections and the early release of the Elections Decree and legal framework for elections. Ministers were pleased to hear the assurances from the Attorney General that these steps were imminent.
Ministers noted the logistical challenges still facing the Fiji Elections Office and the importance of ensuring widespread access to voter education.
Recalling the expectations of the people of Fiji and the international community for free and fair elections, Ministers reiterated the need for political parties’ full engagement in the electoral process, including the ability to meet freely and campaign openly. In this respect, while welcoming the significant improvement that has taken place since their last visit, Ministers emphasised the importance of ongoing improvements to media freedom, freedom of speech, association and assembly.
Ministers emphasised that it would be in Fiji’s interest that the election be judged on its openness and fairness according to accepted international standards. Ministers encouraged Fiji to welcome full international observation of the election to leave no doubt as to its legitimacy. They also emphasised the critical importance of access for international media.
Ministers reaffirmed the clear commitment of all Forum members to encourage and support Fiji’s early return to parliamentary democracy, and reiterated members’ offers to assist electoral preparations as well as to provide immediate assistance to the Electoral Commission, if so requested.
Welcoming the progress Fiji has made towards elections and a return to parliamentary democracy, and recognising the importance of greater regional trade and economic integration, Ministers agreed to recommend to Forum Leaders that Fiji be invited to participate in PACER Plus negotiations and Forum Trade Ministers’ Meetings at ministerial level.
Ministers discussed with the Forum Secretary General steps for welcoming Fiji’s full participation in the Forum following Fiji’s September election, in accordance with the spirit and intent of the Biketawa Declaration.
The MCG is chaired by the Hon. Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, and include: Hon. Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign 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. Taukelina Finikaso, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Tourism, Environment and Labour of Tuvalu; and Hon. Nipake Edward Natapei, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Vanuatu.