Fiji: a case study in the realities of Commonwealth suspension

As Maldivian politicians contemplate renouncing the country’s membership in the Commonwealth amidst threats of suspension, a sign of some of the implications the country may face should this come to pass can be seen in the Pacific Ocean-based island nation of Fiji.

In September 2009 Fiji was itself suspended from the Commonwealth, a 54 member state intergovernmental organisation rooted in the former British empire,  after Fiji’s military heads refused to hold previously-agreed elections in 2010 after coming to power.

Fiji’s suspension had significant economic and diplomatic ramifications for the island nation after some foreign powers began to see the country as a “rogue state”, resulting in a significant drop in aid and other assistance, according to New Zealand-based geopolitics consultancy, 36th Parallel Assessments.


Fiji found itself facing “estrangement” from western aid and other technical programmes after it was suspended from the Commonwealth three years ago.

Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth saw the country isolated from “aid donors aligned to western democracies”, observed Selywn Manning from 36th Parallel Assessments.

“This brand of authoritarian government caused aid donor nations and bodies (most significantly donor funds from the European Union) to be cut. Donors became reticent to commit development funds to Fiji, and indeed the Commonwealth member states in the Pacific region used this withdrawal of aid funds as a lever to pressure Fiji to return to democratic rule,” Manning explained.

The suspension also led to a shift in attitudes towards investment and business spending in the country, particularly tourism.

“Fiji’s isolation was made worse for its people due to the Commonwealth suspension decision following on from the position taken by the Pacific Islands Forum – a body consisting of 16 independent south/west Pacific islands states. The Pacific Islands Forum leaders had earlier decided to suspend Fiji until it recommitted to free and fair democratic elections,” Manning said.

“Fiji’s refusal to do so caused Australia and New Zealand to express a foreign policy that enforced travel and visitor sanctions levelled against Fiji’s ruling military elite and their families. The two western aligned nations also successfully lobbied the United Nations secretariat to de-commission, or discontinue, Fiji soldiers from taking part in peacekeeping operations around the world. The consequence of these moves caused Fiji’s economy to suffer. By late 2008, Fiji’s economy was in recession and this in-turn impacted on the livelihoods of ordinary Fiji families.”

International standing

The vacuum left by Western-aligned interests was quickly filled by other countries, especially China, Manning said.

China became the “most significant” of these external powers to befriend Fiji whilst more “Western aligned” bodies such as Australia, New Zealand and the wider Commonwealth organisation effectively enforced “estrangement” on the nation, he said.

“The People’s Republic of China (PRC) committed to aid and donor programmes and Fiji’s people began to notice positive change. PRC funds permitted the military regime to put its soldiers to work building new roads and improve infrastructure and government owned facilities. The military regime also permitted an increase in Chinese enterprise to establish inside Fiji, while western foreign and private investment stagnated or declined,” he said.

According to Manning, as Fiji has begun to accede to international pressure to host democratic elections by 2014, one of the key drivers towards the development was the belief that China’s donor support did not account for losses incurred by Commonwealth suspension.

“There are two elements that are able to be identified as significant influencers in [terms of scheduling elections for 2014]. The Peoples Republic Of China’s committed donor programme does not replace in dollar terms the loss Fiji has experienced to its total aid funds received ledger,” he explained.

“This has caused Fiji’s military government to move to sustain donor funds from the PRC while inching toward recreating Fiji as a post-coup democratic state,” he added. “Should elections be held in 2014, Fiji anticipates western aid funders will re-establish contact with its government and re-commit to assistance programmes.

“The second element is the United States’ position to establish warm relations with Fiji, encourage foreign investment in a post-election period and welcome Fiji back as a nation on friendly-nation status terms.”

While it remains suspended from the Commonwealth, Manning said Fiji has still been able to represent itself before the general assembly of the United Nations. However Fiji’s relationship with its wealthy neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, remained terse.

Manning added that Fiji had also retained membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), a four member inter-governmental body that includes Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands and Vanuatu among its representatives.

“The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) did not suspend Fiji but has given Fiji a degree of legitimacy around the Pacific region,” he noted.

“The MSG was usually dominated by Papua New Guinea’s wishes, but since 2010, PNG has supported Fiji’s Prime Minister and military leader Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama’s chairmanship of the Melanesian bloc,” he said. “Once stable in the role, under Bainimarama’s leadership, Melanesian nations have moved to establish unprecedented independence – most recently Melanesian leaders agreed to establish a regional security force called The Legion which would arguably replace regional assistance missions led by Australia and New Zealand should civil unrest cause a Melanesian state to require external assistance to quell an uprising.”

As well as defence agreements, the MSG is also said to have moved to represent its members among global bodies without having Melanesian countries go through the Pacific Islands Forum. Funding to do this has come from donors including the People’s Republic of China, Timor Leste, and Luxembourg.

National mood

Asked how the Fijian public viewed the Commonwealth’s actions to suspend its membership, Selwyn responded that it was hard to identify a particular national mood, owing to the country’s strongly-polarised society around two distinct ethnic groups.

Of these two groups, indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijian population, Selwyn claimed the latter had benefited from a move by the present military regime towards a less racially segregated societal system.

“The regime’s goal is to legislate and enforce a new constitution which will remove political protections for Fiji’s indigenous peoples and stamp out so-called corrupt practice by Fiji’s former power-elite. It appears many Fijians, subscribing to both ethnic groups, support Bainimarama’s plan,” he said. “Also, due to staunch censorship decrees enforced in post-coup Fiji it is difficult to analyse a statistically accurate poll of public opinion.”

However, 36 Parallel Assessments, in its research, said that what support the current government did have among its people and international partners could well be dented by a failure to adhere to the 2014 election timetable.

In terms of the immediate future for Fiji, the nation still remains suspended from the Commonwealth, a decision that will be maintained until scheduled democratic elections are held in 2014.

However, Selwyn said that in terms of the Commonwealth’s success or failure in resolving the country’s political upheavals, it was important to look at the organisation’s work within the wider international community.

“The Commonwealth’s demand that Fiji must return to democracy has not set it apart as the stand-alone entity that will cause Fiji to return to democracy. Rather it is a voice among numerous bodies that are pressing the argument,” Manning said.

“It is the cumulative voice that has caused Fiji to take notice and to express a willingness to hold elections in 2014 post establishing a new constitution,” he added. “Should Fiji’s prime minister Commodore Bainimarama be elected as leader in 2014, then he will have pulled off a political coup, South-Pacific style. And that is a tempting proposition for an isolated military man to ponder.”

Maldives and CMAG

The Maldives has already been suspended from Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). However, Commonwealth Secretariat Spokesperson Richard Uku cautioned against comparing the Maldives against a former member state like Fiji.

“Each country situation that CMAG has considered in the past has had its own particular characteristics. It would not be fair to compare one situation against the other,” Uku said.

As one of the more active elements of the international community in the Maldives following the controversial events of February 7, the Commonwealth has become a bellweather for the response of the wider international community.

The European Union told Minivan News last week that it continued to back CMAG and its Special Envoy Sir Donald Mckinnon in pursuing early elections, and an independent inquiry into the transfer of power that saw President Mohamed Waheed brought to office amid violent demonstrations, an assault on Male’s military base by mutinying police, and the storming of the state broadcaster.

While the Commonwealth has been criticised by Maldivian politicians associated with the new government, Secretariat Spokesperson Uku claimed the organisation’s experience had shown that no member state wished to be placed in such a situation as to be suspended from the group.

“Commonwealth membership carries political, economic and social benefits for member states and is valued by our member states. It also carries obligations about adhering to certain fundamental political values,” he said.

“Suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth has practical ramifications in terms of a member state being excluded from official Commonwealth meetings at various levels and being barred from receiving new technical assistance in many areas.”

Following its most recent meeting on April 16, Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (GMAG) warned of  “stronger measures” against the Maldives if conditions regarding the independence of Dr Waheed’s Commission of Independent Inquiry (CNI) were not met. Some MPs aligned with the government subsequently called for the Maldives to preemptively disassociate itself from the Commonwealth.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs and daughter of former President Gayoom, Dunya Maumoon,  meanwhile accused the organisation of showing “bias” against the new President in its calls for early elections, claiming it had been misinformed. President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said last week that the Maldives was committed to remaining a Commonwealth Member, but “only under the regulations of our constitution”.


38 thoughts on “Fiji: a case study in the realities of Commonwealth suspension”

  1. Well our pretty boys MP Riyaz Rasheed and anti-semite MP Muttalib should read this article, might shock them out of their ignorant superman fantasies. Just might.

  2. For an informed opinion, pundits should tell citizens the total benefit of CMAG in USD Missions. Is it 1million USD or 50 Million USD.

    My estimate is Maldives would net got more that 300,000 from CMAG. Some Maldives Resorts pays more for advertising. That is why colonial set ups like CMAG are irrelevant for 21st Century.

  3. I'm shocked at the total lack of the mention of what all led to Fiji being suspended. It happened over a period of years. There were hundreds killed.

    This is a piece of drivel. Not journalism.

  4. I think most Fijians dont need the Commonwealth, We decide when to have an election in 2014, that was a timetable, set by Bainimarama, back in 2009,nO ONE NOT AUSTRALIA, NOT NZ, NOT THE COMMONWEALTH, will decide our future, so stop the spin... Fiji will decide whats good for Fiji not for anybody..


  5. what led to Fiji's suspension was a bloodless coup, Rome or who ever! No one was killed in the 2006 Coup, in fact the victimized Mahendra Chaudary of the 2000 coup is a whistle blower of the 2006 coup.The military leader Bainimarama keeps playing for time and keeps delaying the elections. His excuse is he needs electoral reform. Similarly in Maldives election is delayed as AG feels it will be a breach of constitution according to her interpretation, predictably convenient for her and her best friend Defense Minister. Even on the very first day of coup AG Shukoors father told someone Nazim is a good family friend!Fiji is more well off than Maldives and has more natural resources, but still is faced with daunting challenges due to isolation from international community! At first was Commonwealth and the EU followed, while Americans came on board last.

  6. Fiji economy went into recession because CW was not there to help. What crap! British economy keeps going in and out of recession with all the help from CW. Italy,Greece and Spain are all in difficult economic situation. Meaning recession and Commonwealth membership and aid are not related.
    Anyway CW special envoy Don is so old the fellow is easily confused. He observed first hand all the MDP hooliganism and vandalism in Parliament and went and told CMAG that Government supporters in Parliament are uncivilized. That is why CMAG is calling for President Waheed to resign and make way for Nasheed toassume presidency.
    Commonwealth should demand President Waheed make Nasheed vice president and then resign. Then Nasheed becomes President without wasting time and money and energy on unnecessary election.

  7. Well the thing is acording to this article fiji faced recession in 2008. But it was supended from CW in september 2009. But doesn't That mean.....[well think about it you mindless yellow monkeys].

  8. We need the CW. Our competitors will wipe the floor with us otherwise. That is what happened to the paradise called Fijii.

  9. We should not give in to external influences like CW. Maldivian will decide what's better for them. Maldivians will go to elections in 2013. No earlier than that.

    Anni is now becoming a security threat for the country.

  10. yeah yeah yeah. fiji was in recession.... say what, maldives is in some huge economic boom? *facepalm* retards retards retards.

  11. Minivan is scaremongering. And they are only scaring themselves and MDP members. There is no coup in Maldives nor a military rule like they have in Fiji. So dont expect CW to remove Maldives from it's membership. Besides who cares about CW? What do we lose from leaving CW?

  12. We dont need CW now! its too old like the 30yrs....we need a change. tell CW to back off we can deal with our problems and ask the resort owners to put there money in bank....enforce tourist and other people who has dollars to exchange in licensed money exchanging places....insha Allah our country will b in a very wealthy place

  13. It is not Fiji we are concerned about rather what will happen to Maldives when our economy is so weak. Even a little jolt will take us to a great depression.

  14. Every country has its own problems. But no country goes down the drain into oblivion.
    There might have been a time when the Brits and other Europeans colonised and slaved other countries. But that day is history now. No country or people can disappear now. No country can be discriminated now.
    CW will try to pull its strings for they think they are still a powerful organisation.
    But to tell you the truth, they are nothing more than a bunch formed and founded by white supremacists.
    We should not let CW intimidate us.
    We may be a little poorer without them. But so what? We cannot let them make decisions for us. We are capable people. We can do on our own even without CW. If they are a pain on our ass, we better get out of this CW Bulls$%t organisation.
    The sooner the better.

  15. The Maldivians must always REMEMBER that it's not the Commonwealth who benefits BUT member states. Looking at the Maldives situation, it seems the Maldivians must make a decision NOW - if pro-government Majlis MPs are making a decision for their own benefits alone or for the Maldivian people as well

  16. CMAG is bribed Naseem (ex foreign minister under nasheed govt) who used to sit in the committee! Their recommendations have been inconsistent. They came to Maldives in Feb to find out about the transfer of power but declared inconclusive, then calls for early elections and investigation, once investigation starts without providing technical support they order to change composition or face suspension?? completely biased and useless! forget CMAG and move on Maldives!

  17. Can we remove all these idiots MPs from the Parliament? They are taking our money and coming up with ways not to improve our life, but worsen it! Please give these people an IQ test, including general knowledge, international relations, etc...I bet people like Riyaz and Muttalib won't even dare sit for the test, but bring a fake MC! What a bunch of jokers really!

  18. Whats so bad about having a good relationship with china (the will be successor to USA in economic & military power). portraying china in a bad light is how western media tries to stop the inevitable. why should we be on the losing side when we can be on the winning side.!!!! and when you write articles about recession please study economics a little better. their many factors that causes recession. just because CW(a constant reminder that once upon a time UK enslaved us) suspends a country it wont cause a recession and even all the affects of said suspension will not cause a recession.

  19. CMAG cannot bring a boom to the Maldives economy. If that has not happened in the future, why hope for an economic boom with CMAG.

    It is best to out of CMAG - besides economy cannot get any worse.

  20. Its interesting to note that majority of the comments here are against CW. If CW removes Maldives from its member states, people might distance themselves from MDP as people might blame MDP for influencing CW to remove Maldives...

  21. Commonwealth as an ideology is totally outdated. But so is the Maldivian thinking that a nation can afford to be un-global.
    eg. ..... Being Maldives we happen to be 100% Muslims. Being Muslims we have to visit the Kauba. To visit the Kauba we have to have a Saudi visa. In order to have the visa we have to have a certain international relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Once you have the visa you do your Hajju and await for the Heaven in the hearafter.
    Reverse gear ... No Hajju if you have no visa ... and .... You just simply cant do away with the rest of the world ... even if you are a Maldivian ... and even if you are Mr. Waheed Gayyom Riyaz.

  22. Travel ban and freezing of the accounts of coup leaders and allies would do the job

  23. Worst. Article. Ever.

    Seriously, Rome has this right - this is not journalism but scaremongering drivel.

    Minivan and 'Neil Merrett' should be ashamed of this piece.

    Firstly, the situation is Fiji is nothing like the Maldives (no mention of that here), secondly, there's such a thing as cause and effect. In Fiji, there was a full-blown military takeover with countless major problems associated with it. This led to many problems - e.g. people not wanting to go to a dangerous country, removal of aid, suspension from the CW. NOT, as this 'article' (and I use the term loosely) suggests, removal from the CW led to lack of Aid and investment and tourism.

    Come on Minivan. I normally enjoy reading your backward journalistic efforts to promote your Messiah Anni, but today's effort is just weak.

    P.S. I am someone who thinks being part of CW is a positive thing and doesn't see this as some big conspiracy. CW probably do actually want to help the Maldives, rather than play colonial masters, given CW is made up of all CW member states (including the Maldives!), not just the UK. Use your brains people!

  24. The stand that CMAG has taken is a stand for us. Not for the Queen. The stand they have taken is to support US to get clarity about what really happened on February 7. To support Dr Waheed to get this chapter read and closed.

    I don't know about you, but I certainly DO want to know what happened for President Nasheed to resign.

    I also do not believe the CNI can be impartial with the links the members have to politicians who have opposed President Nasheed. ie Ismail Shafeeu former Defense Minister with Gayoom.

    I am completely baffled by the song and dance that the Foreign Ministry is running on this matter. Dhunya Maumoon. You must have something to hide if you can get this worked up about being asked to revise terms of reference and to have a CNI that holds credibility across parties. Dhunya, give Dr Waheed a chance to make up his own mind and ask your old man to stay out of it.

  25. I see that it’s fun time! And why not join in?

    Pearls of wisdom ……… “Reverse gear … No Hajju if you have no visa … and …. You just simply can’t do away with the rest of the world … even if you are a Maldivian … and even if you are Mr. Waheed Gayyom Riyaz.”

    Boy oh! Boy what happens after some time with the whole world on your side and in your hip pocket……, the next day - YOU DIE?

    What good is the whole world then? Nay a million worlds? (HATE TO TAKE THIS ROUTE! No option)

    CHECK MATE! What a rationale! GOOD FOR U!

    Hey Guys come to think of it we ARE Maldivians Grace a' Her Majesty’s Common WELT. Gosh! WE eat because of them. Every Island has a state of the art health facility due to the COMMON HELL! Didn’t you know all our PHD’s except one is a PhD because of Her Majesty’s Grace. Did you not know that All the schools in the Maldives are funded by the Common Wealth? If not for them scholarships, NOBODY would have been able to read and write even Divehi!

    99.99999% of our doctors, engineers, proctors, coolies and clearks are ex Common welt scholarship holders, whose stipends kept their families fed to the 3 rd Generation.

    O! Please! Please don’t offend the sahib Common welter. Rather lets preen and dance to every little off tune melody they fling out. Blimy their morsels are better than our buriyani! After all The Common welt Sahib has salivated on that chewed off morsel. Call me a DONKEY! But please spare the common WELL sahib!!!!

    For that matter how can we forget the Rice and curry, and even the Garu Diya, we eat are subsidised by the Common wealth? Blimy forgot! We are free of Constipation because of the Common Wealth. Look at the world, the OOZING success that is Australia, NZ, UK and Zimbabwe – when in grace; have been queuing to finance our roads, bridges, airports, TOILETS, our Discos, illicit taverns and the cess pits - in our homes!!!!!!!!!!!. SO SURELY WE CANNOT DEFAECATE WITHOUT THE COMMONWEALTH. If not for the common welts, we won’t have the dash strength to dash breath!

    SO LETS BE THEIR DASH DOOR MATS ????????????????????????????.
    IS THAT THE ARGUMENT? None are more slavish than one who hasn’t an IOTA of self- respect.

    In different times, it was precisely leaders such as these that went to bed with the colonialist parasites that cost our countries their Freedom. History is replete with such yellow(Nothing to do with a party) vermin.

    History shows that such traitors died a cursed "natural death", but long after the scum were gone, their actions enslaved their countries for Generations and Generations.

    What a grand exchange! For a few pieces of silver, a bottle or two or a huff and a puff of the right stuff; - trade off, one’s dignity, and sell off your COUNTRY and its future as we know it!.

  26. @ Peace lover

    U really seriously think so?

    How different is the running of the common wealth to that of the UN? The UN has much more members? Who calls the shots? the member states? 🙂

  27. @Ahmad on Wed, 25th Apr 2012 8:59 PM

    The Commonwealth or "welt" represents 52 nations. Maldives relies on Tourism for over 70% of foreign exchange. Many plays left before checkmate, mate.

    PS: Were you trying to CAPSLOCK us to death??!!

  28. Come to think of it, ethnic Fijians and Maldivians have so many things in common.
    Fiji and Maldives are small boring islands in the middle of tsunami and its bye bye.
    Both countries have an inflated ideas of their worth in the if the others (bigger) members give a hoot.
    Both countries are politically unstable.....ruled by one unelected despot after another.
    Both people are intolerant religious fanatics.....christians on the one hand, sunni muslims on the other.
    Both countries have a history of cannibalism.....people who eat other people are soooo uncivilised.
    Both people have addiction problems.....alcohol and cannabis in Fiji, BS and Dunlop in Maldives.
    Both people are physically unattractive.....Fijian women are fat n ugly, Maldivian men look like bearded Neanderthals (check out the mad mullahs of your Islamic Ministry if you don't believe me!!). Seems like God make Fijians and Maldivians on one of his off days.
    Both people have questionable personal hygiene habits.....the use of soap and deodorants is not widespread.
    I hope your new unelected president will establish a consular office in Suva soon so you lovely people can get to know each other better.
    Lots of Love
    Indira in NewDelhi

  29. Did you know deodarant was invented by a Sunni Muslim in Al Andalus, you silly harlot from India.

    Did you worship Oogah Boogah today?

  30. "We may be a little poorer without them. But so what?"

    So what is that the average Maldivian will suffer. not the ultra-rich politicians making the decisions for us!

    we obviously need a review of the costs versus the benefits of being in the Commonwealth. I think PAkistan left the Commonwealth back in the 70s, which maybe the only country to have done so. so there is no recent precedence. so a review is badly needed..

  31. "The two western aligned nations also successfully lobbied the United Nations secretariat to de-commission, or discontinue, Fiji soldiers from taking part in peacekeeping operations around the world."

    Please check the facts. Australia and NZ lobbied, but definitely not "successfully" to have the UN refuse to have Fiji take part in peacekeeping duties. The UN has pointedly told Aust and NZ that it will not disallow the use of Fiji sildiers, and neither has the UN done so. There are numerous other errors of fact in this article. Please re-edit.

  32. Please research proper before you misinform people - despite Aus & NZ efforts they "unsuccessfully" lobbied for Fiji's suspension from any UN peacekeeping....Fiji soldiers are very much still involved with MFO & UNAMI thank you.

    Fiji to some extent had sufficient political & economic leverage in the region to manouever when prominent development partners withdrew their support, the same can't be said for the Maldives. Pull a Fiji stunt & you'll go bankrupt in days.


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