Fiji General election – Marles: Observer group would do their part to ensure 2022 polls ‘thorough’

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Australian deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles says the Multinational Observer Group for the 2022 polls, which Australia was co-leading, would do their part to ensure the process was “thorough”.

Speaking at a media roundtable in Suva Friday, Marles said Australia respected the sovereignty of Fiji and he expected the 2022 General Election to be conducted in a free and fair manner.

“Obviously the electoral process is a matter for Fiji and we very much respect that but we are looking with interest and optimism to the Fiji elections whenever they occur in the not too distant future,” he said.

“We have been invited by the Fijian Government to co-lead the Multinational Observer Group once again, and we’re very pleased to have been offered that opportunity by the Fijian Government and we will take that up with India and Indonesia.

“In the last election, I think there were about 10 countries that came and participated in the observation of the Fijian elections so we anticipate there is that level of interest again but Fiji has been conducting free and fair elections and we’re really confident that that’s what we’re about to see.”

He said Australia had a long history of observing elections around the world and reiterated that the observers would do their part to ensure the process was thorough.

Marles, who is also Australia’s Defence Minister, was in the country on an official visit and took time out to tour our various sites and Australian funded projects.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama received a courtesy call from the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence of Australia, Richard Marles Friday.

Prime Minister Bainimarama welcomed the Deputy Prime Minister on his first visit to Fiji and said the visit signifies the enduring partnership and strong friendship between the two nations.

He said the Vuvale Partnership has contributed tremendously to Fiji’s recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic and Fiji is grateful to Australia for all its assistance.

On the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) Scheme, the Prime Minister said Fiji looks forward to Australia’s support to further increase employment opportunities in this important area of cooperation which benefits many Fijian workers and families in the Pacific.

He commended Australia’s commitment to tackle climate change and said the two nations will continue to build the momentum in the lead up to the global climate conference, COP27 which will be held in Egypt next month.

On Defence and Security cooperation, the Prime Minister said the Blackrock Camp is a landmark achievement of the Fiji-Australia joint security efforts and it will now operate as a Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Centre- contributing immensely to regional humanitarian disaster responses in years to come.

He said the Pacific is not immune to the impact of the crisis unfolding in Ukraine and the escalation of the human and economic costs, adding that Fiji stands in solidarity with Australia and other like-minded nations in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine.

Speaking on Regional updates, the Prime Minister in his capacity as the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum extended his heartfelt thanks to Australia for supporting regional unity and the solidarity of the Blue Pacific Family.

He said the implementation plan for the 2050 Strategy of a Blue Pacific Continent is being developed and partnerships will be crucial to accomplishing the mandates of the 2050 Strategy.

The Prime Minister expressed his confidence that the Vuvale Partnership will continue to elevate Fiji-Australia relations to greater heights.

In response, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence of Australia, Richard Marles MP said, “As neighbours and friends, Australia’s relationship with Fiji is of utmost importance.

“Our two nations are destined to be close and I feel that we are as closer today than we have ever been.”

“We share an interest in a peaceful, secure and resilient Pacific, and are committed to working together to respond to common security challenges.”

While visiting the Blackrock peacekeeping camp in Nadi last Thursday Deputy Prime Minister for Australia, Richard Marles and Fijian Minister for Defence, National Security and Policing, Inia Seruiratu signed the “A Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA),” which reflects the increased cooperation between our forces to address traditional and non-traditional security threats including climate change, humanitarian crises and disasters.

SOURCE: FIJI TIMES/FIJI GOVT/PACNEWS