Fiji’s military ruler said yesterday it could be 10 years before he relinquishes power, issuing a defiant challenge to South Pacific leaders as they met to press him into restoring democracy.
Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup, promised a regional forum the following year that he would call elections by this April.
But Bainimarama yesterday told troops in the capital, Suva, that he had to amend the Constitution so that he could make the electoral law less discriminatory toward Fiji’s non-indigenous minorities before he could call elections.
“If it takes us five years or 10 years to hold elections, then so be it,” Bainimarama was quoted as saying on the Fijilive Web site.
The comments were a direct challenge to Pacific leaders who gathered in nearby Papua New Guinea yesterday.
Bainimarama, whose coup was Fiji’s fourth since 1987, refused to attend the meeting, saying he needed to stay home to deal with the aftermath of recent deadly floods.
Pacific leaders urged the military leader to at least produce a plan to return the impoverished island to democracy.
“We can’t have a position where there is no road map for democracy, where there is no timetable for democracy and no intent on Bainimarama’s part to ... get the country back on the rails,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters ahead of yesterday’s meeting.
“We need to put some pressure on Bainimarama to honor his word,” he said in Port Moresby.
Australia and New Zealand, whose aid budgets and security muscle make them regional powers, have imposed travel bans on members of Fiji’s military regime and their families.
They favor stiffening sanctions or even suspending Fiji from the 16-member trade and diplomatic bloc the Pacific Islands Forum.
Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea have signaled they would oppose suspending Fiji from the bloc.
Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum — who represented Fiji at the meeting — cautioned against pushing Bainimarama, saying the elections could be held in a year.
“The holding of elections for the sake of holding elections is not going to achieve any proper outcome nor will it achieve any long term democratic stability in Fiji,” he said.