Fijian leader tells UN that planned parliamentary elections must be delayed

27 September 2008

Fiji will not be able to hold democratic parliamentary elections by March next year, as previously scheduled, because it first needs to reform its electoral system, the country’s Prime Minister has told the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate.

Speaking yesterday before the Assembly in New York, Commodore Josaia Bainimarama – who came to power in December 2006 and is still Commander of Fiji’s military forces – said the delay was unavoidable.

“This is due to work still in progress towards agreeing on a democratic electoral system, one acceptable to the people of Fiji, and which is agreed to by all political stakeholders, through political dialogue,” he said.

Although he agreed that general elections must be held as soon as practically possible, “this will be done only after we have achieved broad consensus in Fiji for a non-racial and truly democratic electoral system, and agreed on a constitutional and legal way to introduce the changes.

“It is necessary to change our current electoral system because it is undemocratic and it does not provide for a free and fair election. It contravenes the principle of equal suffrage, as set out in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.”

The Pacific archipelago has suffered prolonged internal tensions between its indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities, and had four coups since 1987.

Mr. Bainimarama reiterated an earlier call for the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations to help with the proposed President’s Political Dialogue Forum, which he said would be central to the process of developing national consensus about the way forward.

The Forum is supposed to lead to a draft Peoples Charter, an initiative he sad he hopes will “empower the people of Fiji at large to find just and sustainable solutions to our deep-rooted and persistent problems.

“I wish to assure the international community that I am personally deeply committed to breaking the cycle of coups. Equally important, I am committed to breaking the cycle of bad and unjust governance which Fiji has suffered since May 1987.

“To remove the ‘coup culture,’ and to commit to democratic and just governance and the rule of law, it is imperative that policies which promote racial supremacy, and which further the interests of self-seeking political, religious and traditional elites, are removed, once and for all.”

But Mr. Bainimarama said his hopes and efforts have been somewhat stymied so far because of opposition from the international community to the coup, which has included travel sanctions from several key countries – Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Pressure has been mounted, on regional and multilateral agencies, not to extend to Fiji the much-needed financial, development and technical assistance,” he added. “As a result we have not been able to make as much progress as we should have.”


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