Sat, May 24, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Fiji PM threatens to back off promise of elections in March


Fiji's military leader has threatened to break a commitment to hold elections by early next year if Fijians refuse to support his plans to change the electoral system, reports said yesterday.

Self-appointed interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who came to power in a bloodless coup in December 2006, said the polls — part of a move back to democracy — would not go ahead if his plans did not receive political support.

“We can’t have elections without the charter,” the FijiLive news service quoted Bainimarama as telling villagers at a church opening on Thursday.

In the face of international condemnation of the coup and resulting sanctions, Bainimarama promised to hold elections by the end of March next year.

But he has insisted on the so-called People’s Charter for Change and Progress, which includes proposals to rewrite the country’s electoral system.

Bainimarama says the current system aggravates racial divisions between the majority indigenous Fijian majority and the ethnic Indian minority.

The racial tensions have been a major factor in the four coups in the past two decades in the South Pacific nation of 900,000 people.

The leaders of the first three coups claimed to have overthrown elected governments in the name of protecting indigenous political supremacy.

He said he had told ousted prime minister Laisenia Qarase this week in their first meeting since the coup that elections could not be held without fixing the underlying problems that led to the coups.

The charter is being promoted by Bainimarama as essential to fixing Fiji’s social problems, but it has been opposed by many politicians and traditional Fijian chiefs.

Bainimarama committed to hold the elections by March under the current constitution at a meeting of 16 Pacific leaders last October.

He has since insisted on introducing his charter first, but provisions such as changing the electoral system are at odds with the Constitution.

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