Fiji military chief says he might delay promised elections

July 13th, 2010 - 2:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Wellington, July 13 (DPA) Fiji’s military strongman, Voreqe Bainimarama, said Tuesday that he might postpone elections he promised to hold in 2014 because of what he called constant interference in his country’s affairs by neighbouring powers Australia and New Zealand.
Bainimarama made the threat in an interview with New Zealand’s Indian broadcaster Radio Tarana after ordering Australia’s senior diplomat in his capital, Suva, on Monday to leave the country in 24 hours.

“I’m all of a sudden thinking we might not really be ready come 2014 for elections if we don’t get any assistance from Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

Bainimarama, who ousted an elected government in a bloodless coup in December 2006, said, “We will continue the path that we are on as we need reforms. That’s going to happen whether Australia likes it or not. They don’t live in Fiji so they don’t know what’s happening in Fiji.”

The military commander, who has since declared himself prime minister, accused the former government of corruption and favouring indigenous Fijians over the ethnic Indian minority.

He has ruled with emergency powers, including censorship of all media outlets, since April last year when he sacked the country’s judges after the Court of Appeal declared his government illegal.

Bainimarama has said he aims to reform the electoral process to give equal rights to all voters in the Pacific island country of about 840,000 before going to the polls.

“We are seriously thinking about the date of elections, and the interference by these people, but I can say that nothing is going to stop us from doing what needs to be done,” he said in the interview. “We are going to come out with the reforms.”

Since the coup, Fiji has been suspended from the Commonwealth and the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum, and the European Union and the US have joined Australia and New Zealand in imposing sanctions.

Bainimarama made it clear he was expelling Australian acting high commissioner Sarah Roberts because she had lobbied other Pacific island leaders in the Melanesian Spearhead Group against attending a meeting in Fiji this week.

The group consists of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, nationalists from France’s Pacific territory of New Caledonia and Vanuatu, whose Prime Minister Edward Natapei is currently chairman.

Natapei cancelled the scheduled meeting and called on Bainimarama to go to Vanuatu to discuss regional cooperation under the principles of democracy and good government.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully condemned Fiji’s expulsion of Roberts, saying it would damage the military regime’s international standing and delay any recovery in its economy.

“It is also a sign that, despite our best efforts, Fiji still does not place much value on the maintenance of diplomatic relations and dialogue as a means of resolving differences,” McCully said.

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