Voters in Fiji’s election this month are keen to end a dictatorship that has ruled the South Pacific island nation since a military coup in 2006, but sprucing up its human rights situation, and ties with Western neighbors, will take time. Change could be slow because Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama, the army chief who seized power to become prime minister, looks set to retain a dominant role, with polls giving his Fiji First Party a strong lead in the run-up to the Sept. 17 election. The much-delayed vote is being closely watched by neighbors Australia and New Zealand, the region’s economic and diplomatic powerhouses. They and their Western allies are eager to welcome Fiji back to the fold after eight years of diplomatic, military and travel sanctions that appear to have achieved little.
Far from being frozen out, Fiji has lifted its global profile, setting up an alternative forum for Pacific island issues, heading the G77 group of developing states in 2013 and contributing peacekeepers to the United Nations. Dozens of its soldiers are being held by Islamists on the Golan Heights.
Fiji has also forged stronger ties with new partners, in particular China, which is establishing an ever greater presence across the Pacific.
“Fiji has certainly made it clear they can work without us internationally,” said Jenny Hayward-Jones, a regional expert at Sydney think tank the Lowy Institute. We need to get Fiji back in the tent because it is not being a very cooperative regional partner and that’s what really matters.”