TESS NEWTON CAIN |
PNG and Fiji elections update
In Papua New Guinea, the dates of this year’s elections have been set. The start of the process has been delayed by two weeks, with the writs to be issued on 12 May. The polling period will last for two weeks, from 9 to 22 July with the writs to be returned by 12 July. Elections in PNG are logistically challenging and expensive, including in relation to the provision of security during the long process.
Meanwhile, in Fiji, campaigning for this year’s elections began on 26 April. However, there has not yet been an announcement on when the elections will take place. Parties have begun to announce their candidate line-ups. Particular attention is being paid to the new People’s Alliance Party, led by former coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka. His party is expected to mount a significant challenge against the incumbent Fiji First government led by Josiah Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama.
US to invite Pacific leaders to the White House
Further to his recent visit to the region, Kurt Campbell has announced a raft of measures that are aimed at reassuring Pacific island countries and their leaders of renewed US engagement and support. Campbell is the Indo-Pacific coordinator and led the delegation that met recently with the Prime Ministers of Fiji, PNG, and Solomon Islands.
Among the various announcements that Campbell made was a promise that Pacific leaders would be invited to the White House to meet with US President, Joe Biden. However, no details were provided as to when this would happen.
Missing from the recent announcements we have heard from the US administration is any indication of when their diplomatic complement will be replenished. There is still no Ambassador in Suva and there has been no announcement as to who will take over the helm of the Embassy in Port Moresby.
Dates set for meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders
The dates for the next meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders have been announced. The first in-person meeting since 2019 will be held in Suva from 7 to 9 June. The meeting will be chaired by the Prime Minister of Fiji, Josiah Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama. PM Bainimarama will also be in the throes of an election campaign at that time.
It is likely to be one of the most closely watched PIF leaders’ meetings in recent years. There are some really important things to be discussed and resolved. It is expected that the meeting will include discussions of concerns arising from the recently announced security agreement between Solomon Islands and China.
There is also the issue of whether the “Micronesian Five” will or will not leave the PIF. The withdrawals that they activated early in 2021 are currently on ‘pause’ until the end of June.
Press freedom issues continue to be a concern
As we mark World Press Freedom Day, there are ongoing concerns about media freedom across the region.
Research released by the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement and the University of the South Pacific reveals a very worrying picture of sexual harassment of female journalists in Fiji. In particular, women in the media reported that when they reported on government-related stories they experienced an increase in online harassment.
Meanwhile, in Solomon Islands, veteran reporter Dorothy Wickham has said that she has never experienced such a closed political environment as exists now in her country. Journalists have been chased from the Parliamentary precinct, and the media has been criticised on the floor of Parliament.
The role of the media in safeguarding and sustaining democratic resilience in the region is key. In many parts of the Pacific, the threats to media freedom are intensifying not reducing.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.