Pacific News Minute: New Zealand PM in First State Visit to Fiji since 2006

Jun 8, 2016

John Key
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This week, a Prime Minister of New Zealand visits Fiji for the first time since a military coup in 2006. Prime Minster John Key noted that international monitors described elections there two years ago as free and fair.  He conceded that the political situation might not be ideal, but said it's time to resume relations at the highest level.  We have more on that political situation, from Neal Conan, in today's Pacific News Minute.

During a debate in Fiji's parliament last Thursday, a leading member of the opposition, Roko Tupou Draunidalo called Education Minister Mahendra Reddy a fool...a mild insult by American political standards but a violation of standing orders in Fiji's parliament.  She objected that she only used the word after the minister had referred to the opposition as dumb natives, which the minister denies,  then she compounded her offense by adding "you idiot."

The Privileges Committee, composed of four government MPs, promptly banned her for the remainder of the parliamentary term, another two years. The opposition walked out, and protested the penalty as excessively harsh and ridiculous.

Draunidalo's National Federation Party represents tribal chiefs and traditional society.  Mahendra Reddy is an ethnic Indian, a group that only achieved political parity in Fiji's post-coup constitution and those divisions remain explosive.

In a statement supporting the ban, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama noted Fiji's long and unsettling history on ethnicity, "We have done our best to move away from that tarnished legacy," he said, "by giving every Fijian the benefits of common and equal citizenship."

Bainimarama's critics protest that he continues to rule as if he still heads a military government, and sometimes uses the police and the army to get his way, along with parliamentary discipline.