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Tevita Vuibau
Sunday, February 16, 2014

THE Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) has praised Fiji's progress towards elections but says progress needs to continue and has drawn attention to this fact in their final report.

The group concluded their two-day visit to the country yesterday and also presented the outcome of the visit.

Group chair New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said Fiji had come quite a way since the last MCG visit in 2013.

"What we've done in our report is welcomed the progress that has been made so far in terms of creating the space for elections things like freedom for the media, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly," Mr McCully said.

"But we have drawn attention for the need for those areas to be enhanced going forward if we're going to see elections that meet the free and fair test as assessed by the international community.

"So yes there has been, since our last visit, an improvement in that environment and those improvements need to be continued in our view."

He said if all went as planned in the lead up to elections, this could be the last visit by the MCG, adding the final report would be an honest reflection of their views.

"This is not a matter of applying the MCG yardstick to things, it's a matter of us coming on an occasional basis and talking to the players and giving an honest assessment of where things are at, and what this report does is give very significant credit for very significant progress."

"It tries to honestly to look at the challenges ahead and it's honest about the areas where we need to see ongoing improvement given the need for the international community to see the election outcome as free and fair for the result to have legitimacy."

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop echoed the words of her trans- Tasman counterpart saying that it was in Fiji's best interests that the elections were viewed as free and fair.

"We had a positive discussion with the Attorney-General yesterday and he understood our desire that the international media as well as local media be free to report because it's in Fiji's interests that the international community judge the elections as free and fair.

"This is not something that Australia is suggesting in our interest, this is in Fiji's interests so that the legitimacy of the result is not in doubt."

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