Julie Bishop says Australia will work with whoever wins Fiji’s election to ensure an “acceptable level of democracy” is achieved in the Pacific nation.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has warned there’s a long way to go before Australia fully restores ties with Fiji, saying democracy is more than just holding an election.
The South Pacific island nation on Wednesday went to the polls for the first time since leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power in a military coup in 2006.
The military strongman turned interim prime minister is confident of victory in what he promised would be a free and fair election as part of a return to democracy.
An initial result is expected on Thursday but a final outcome won’t be known for days.
International observers, including past and present Australian politicians, invited to oversee the election said things went smoothly on the day without any reports of violence or interference.
Ms Bishop said the outcome had been “very positive” but the process of rebuilding trust would take time.
“There’s a great deal for us to achieve,” she told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
“But the first step is to ensure that the election meets international expectations.”
Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009 after Bainimarama failed to meet a deadline to return it to democracy but he has since made headway on promised reforms.
As a goodwill gesture ahead of the poll the Abbott government began a diplomatic thaw with Fiji, lifting travel bans on senior military and government figures.
Ms Bishop said there was “quite a menu of matters” that needed to be addressed before Fiji would be fully embraced by Australia.
“Achieving democracy is more than just holding an election,” she said.
Defence and trade ties would need to be normalised and both nations would need to swap ambassadors – a thorny issue in the past.
In 2012 both nations agreed to exchange high commissioners for the first time in three years but Fiji then refused to grant a visa to Australia’s candidate.
The multinational observer group must still give the election its stamp of approval in a final report.
Ms Bishop said Australia was prepared to continue working with Fiji no matter who won until an “acceptable level of democracy” had been achieved.
“Whoever is the new prime minister and the new government, Australia will work closely with them to continue to normalise relations,” she said.