Sun, Apr 12, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Former coup leader appointed Fiji PM

INSTABILITY: The UN chief criticized Fiji’s president for annulling the constitution, while Australia warned the latest developments could further hurt the economy

REUTERS , SUVA

Fijian military chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama, right, is sworn in as interim prime minister by President Josefa Iloilo at Government House in Suva yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Fiji’s president yesterday reappointed former coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama to head the politically unstable South Pacific nation’s government, less than two days after a court ruled his 2006 coup illegal.

Fiji has suffered four coups and a bloody military mutiny since 1987, mainly as a result of tensions between the majority indigenous Fijian population and the economically powerful ethnic Indian minority.

Bainimarama was sworn in as caretaker prime minister in the morning by Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, who on Friday annulled the 1997 constitution and sacked the judges who declared Bainimarama’s former government illegal on Thursday.

“He just came, he read the oath and he was appointed as prime minister,” a local journalist said by telephone.

In the afternoon Bainimarama, who is also military chief, reappointed nine ministers in his former government to the same posts. They were sworn in by Iloilo, an ethnic Fijian like Bainimarama.

Bainimarama came to power in a bloodless 2006 coup. On Thursday the Court of Appeal overturned an earlier judgment that his government was legal. Bainimarama initially said he would step down.

However, after annulling the constitution, the president enacted emergency powers for the country’s military and police, initially for 30 days but with the possibility of extension.

He also issued a decree giving himself the power to appoint a prime minister by decree and other ministers on the advice of the prime minister. These powers are to remain in force until a parliament is elected under a new constitution yet to be adopted.

Iloilo has called for fresh elections in 2014, but his actions have been widely criticized overseas.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has criticized the annulment of Fiji’s constitution and called for it to be reversed.

However, despite the political upheavals, the situation in Suva has remained calm for the Easter weekend.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean said yesterday the events in Suva were likely to further damage Fiji’s economy, which has suffered since the coup. On Thursday, the Reserve Bank of Fiji predicted that the economy would contract by 0.3 percent this year, compared with an expansion of 2.4 percent last year.

A leading analyst said Fiji could also expect tightening of sanctions and further action from both the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum, while tourists were likely to be scared off.

There was no doubt the judges’ decision was legally correct, analyst Damien Kingsbury said, and Bainimarama and his supporters were clearly digging themselves in to try to hang on to power.

“It is certainly a circumvention of any democratic process, or any return to democratic process. It also shows that Fiji is not a country at the moment that is governed by the rule of law,” said Kingsbury, associate professor in the School of International and Political Studies at Australia’s Deakin University.

“Fiji also relies heavily on tourism. I think tourists these days are increasingly gun shy,” he said.

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