Text interview of University of Fiji’s Professor Richard Herr with ABC News:
RICHARD HERR: Nothing has been done that says that the elections won’t be held and that they won’t be reasonably open in terms of the set out and the roadmap and the requirements of being non-racial, being open and transparent.
FELICITY OGILVIE: So you’re confident that by September next year there will be general elections in Fiji. Would the country then operate as a democracy after that? How would it work?
RICHARD HERR: Well first of all we have to see what the election throws up. But there’s still a lot of difficult manoeuvres yet to be performed. The government has to form its own party if it’s going to work through. The candidates for political office have to resign from the military and from other posts that might interfere with them being independent members of parliament and so on.
FELICITY OGILVIE: Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr is discussing the effective return of democracy to Fiji today, with Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. What do you believe if anything these three countries can do to encourage the return of democracy to Fiji?
RICHARD HERR: Well they have to encourage Fiji to become an accepted member of the regional community. I mean, the worst thing they ever did was to exclude Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum because they lost one of the most effective mechanisms for having peer group pressure, peer group values being – assisting Fiji in an appropriate way and also assisting Australia and New Zealand to understand the mood of the region.
FELICITY OGILVIE: But should Fiji be welcomed back in without having a democratic government in place?
RICHARD HERR: I’d ask you do you think that the Government of Burma has demonstrated that it is a democracy? No. We assist governments that are trying to return – and the problem with Australia and New Zealand’s attitude towards Fiji is they have always wanted more and more and more. Whatever Fiji has done in meeting its roadmap thresholds and requirements has never been quite enough. “Well, let’s wait for something more.”
Now it’s at the end of the line. We’re really only down to basically a year until elections. And even at the last hurdle, it wasn’t enough. So, I think that the bar has been set far too high. It’s unrealistically so. And measures have been put in place. For example, the governments have required, Australia and New Zealand have required, that ex-military or military people, whether they’re current or ex, get out of the bureaucracy in order to show that it isn’t going to be dominated by military influence. But the fact is that they put the sanctions in place that prevented people of good will, non-military people, from taking up these positions.
PETER LLOYD: That’s Associate Professor Richard Herr speaking to Felicity Ogilvie.