A commentary by Maureen Penjueli
Coordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG)
Let’s face it – Fiji had only one chance to make a great impression on the world’s largest democratic leader Narendra Modi when he visited our shores on Wednesday. Apparently over two-thirds of a person’s impression is actually formed within moments of seeing you for the first time, this is even before you have had the opportunity to speak. Frank Banimarama love him or hate him fully understands the symbolic importance of first impressions.
So how does a country like Fiji present itself to the world’s largest democratic leader Narendra Modi – by presenting Fiji as a military power house soften by a multicultural outlook? It is not surprising therefore that Modi was welcomed at the Nausori airport by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces in all their glory. Frank Bainimara understands that Fiji’s ranking in the global world of politics is in part built on this image of Fiji as a strong military powerhouse acting as world peace keepers. This is our global footprint.
But the first impression doesn’t stop there. Since the landslide victory of recent Fiji election at the helm of coup leader Frank Bainimarama, the public transformation from coup leader to a statesman is in full force. Frank Bainimarama receives Modi, in a i-taukei suit spotting a baby pink tie, with not one but two Fiji flags pinned to the lapel of his jack. The pink tie is perhaps to soften the hard military image of a coup leader while the flags stamp his Fijian credo. He is accompanied by his wife and a lone i-taukei school girl dressed in traditional attire help to further soften his image. While his team of ministers complete the first impression of strength, unity and solidarity.
Modi on the other hand wearing simple white traditional attire contrasted with a deep blue jacket with a single pen in his breast pocket. Perhaps Modi understands the power of the pen and what it represents in relation to Fiji. No less than 15 bilateral agreements were signed signifying the dawn of a ‘new era’ of Fiji/ India relationship. Modi announced that both countries agree to consult more closely on international issues of mutual interest namely international trade, climate change, UN peacekeeping and UN reforms. India has also expressed interest in expanding deference and security co-operation, including assistance in deference training and capacity.
With the stroke of the pen, Modi also confirmed Fiji’s leadership in the region as the hub for stronger Indian engagement with other Pacific Islands. No doubt we will not be seeing any condemnation of the recent signing of uranium export deal between Australia and India. Nor will we be seeing any signs of condemnation around the issue of climate change.
But what does this first impression say to the people of Fiji. Firstly that Frank Bainimarama is still a military man at heart and he has the full support of the Fiji Military Forces behind him. Secondly public appearances don’t hide the fact that this is a man who rules with an iron fist. Even with a clear majority in Parliament and significant people support, there was no graciousness towards the leader of the opposition, nor to the Vanua and the Church.
Not giving the leader of the opposition the opportunity to deliver the vote of thanks shows his disregard for the importance of the role of the opposition in a democracy. Unfortunately and perhaps he really did understand the leader of the opposition only too well – at the first real test of international diplomacy they decide to boycott parliament seating.