Barry Soper: Jacinda Ardern floors her fans in Fijian village

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Thu, 27 Feb 2020, 3:45PM

Barry Soper: Jacinda Ardern floors her fans in Fijian village

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Thu, 27 Feb 2020, 3:45PM

It was like a wet sauna. They stood in the sun for hours in the 100-year-old, dirt-poor squatter village, waiting for the first-ever Prime Minister to visit.

Jacinda Ardern pulled up and the cheers went up, the rock star had arrived. She was escorted to the front of an open-air meeting place, taking her place on the stage. In Fiji a person of importance sits higher than the gathered throng.

She cooled herself down with a personalised fan, it was helpful but they were the fans. She was there to turn the first sod on a sanitation project for this neglected village.

Three million dollars was a lot to get their heads around but that didn't matter, they could finally have some real facilities we all take for granted.

One of the village speakers mentioned wellbeing, and Ardern smiled, flapping the PM Ardern fan.

Ardern is good at is relating and that she did, telling the villagers at the end of her speech the next time she's there she doesn't want to feel like the Queen towering above them, she wanted to sit on the floor cross-legged just like they did. And she did just that.

A cynic could say it was a specially engineered, election-year photo op. It may well have been planned but her fellow floor-dwellers revelled in it.

Then she was mobbed as she left the village with its now saturated inhabitants bursting into a beautiful rendition of Isa Lei, the traditional Fijian farewell song.

Is there any wonder that Ardern loves going overseas? To the incredulous suggestion that she should be spending more back home on the needy, we got the deeply furrowed brow as she used the well-rehearsed response that they had lifted 20,000 kids out of poverty.

The village visit was in stark contrast to the night before when Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama hosted her at a state dinner at Suva's ultra-flash Grand Pacific Hotel where she was staying.

The leaders were over the top about each other but looking out on the crowd Ardern couldn't help but see all the empty seats. Not that there were many of them in the first place.

"Frank only invites his cronies," one of the uninvited confided.

Clearly his cronies are diminishing.

Today Ardern heads to a mosque in Lautoka. Three members of the mosque's congregation, including an imam, were gunned down in Christchurch nearly a year ago.

And this afternoon she'll come down to earth as she wings her way to Sydney to meet with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison — Scomo.