David Shearer –
Fiji has now expelled its third opposition Member of Parliament – Ratu Isoa Tikoca.
This time, the suspension is for two years, which means that he will not be back in Parliament before the election in two years’ time.
Can you imagine an opposition MP being expelled by John Key in the New Zealand Parliament? It is unthinkable here and it should be unthinkable in Fiji as well.
The ousting of opposition Members of Parliament is being done in Fiji at the whim of Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama.
That is not how democracy works.
If a contentious remark is made in Parliament, it should be taken up with the Speaker of Parliament. It is not an issue for the Prime Minister to be involved with, and nor should it be. It’s unconstitutional. This is one of the protections embedded in a parliamentary system so MPs can speak freely without the risk of censure or a lawsuit against them.
It means that as an MP, for example, I have the responsibility to be measured in what I say, balanced with the freedom to speak out openly about issues even if they may be contentious.
Democracy is ultimately a contest of ideas. These ideas are often passionately and vociferously argued in parliament – and so they should be.
When individuals disagree in parliament we understand we simply have differing points of view.
It is a robust process and it is not personal.
These basic tenets have been fought-over for hundreds of years, bringing the Westminster system to the place where it is today.
Sadly, the expulsion of Ratu Tikoca follows from another a few weeks ago when Mr Bainimarama imprisoned opposition and civic leaders for daring to meet together.
Fiji’s democratically-elected parliamentarians are now left with a fear that should someone raise a different point of view to that of Mr Bainimarama, they will be stood down from their democratic positions, removed from representing the people who elected them, and in the case of those civic leaders a few weeks ago even thrown into prison without charge.
All at the whim of a leader who is increasingly giving the impression that he is struggling to transition from military general to democratically-elected leader.
John Key conducted a state visit to Fiji in June – an occasion where he was embarrassed by the Fiji Prime Minister’s public criticisms of New Zealand.
There has been talk of a reciprocal state visit to New Zealand for Fiji’s Prime Minister.
I do not believe that we should go back to the bad old days of sanctions against Fiji because it would not be in the best interests of encouraging democracy in Fiji.
But I do think that extending a state visit to a leader like Mr Bainimarama is a bridge too far at the current time.
If he wants to visit New Zealand to watch a game of Rugby, he should be very welcome. But we should hold off on rolling out the red carpet until we see evidence he is leading a proper democracy in Fiji.
David Shearer is an elected Member of Parliament from Mt Albert in Auckland and Labour Party’s spokesman for Foreign Affairs.