Fiji seeks global help in becoming 'truly' democratic

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United Nations, Sep 30 (UNI) Fiji has sought help of the international community to become a nation with a truly democratic, non-racial and equitable society.

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama told the General Assembly that he had no regrets in launching a coup last year and promised to stage free and fair elections as soon as possible.

The interim prime minister, who is also commander of Fiji's military forces, said the Pacific island chain faces deep-rooted, structural problems which cannot be solved ''quickly or easily''.

''The country now is at a very critical crossroads; its situation could escalate into more serious deterioration and instability,'' he told the 62nd General Assembly session at UN headquarters over the weekend.

Noting that some countries, ''including the closest of our neighbours in the Pacific,'' have introduced punitive measures following the coup last December, the prime minister said it was important to realise that many Fijians, especially in villages and rural areas, ''live in a democracy with a mentality that belongs to the chiefly system,'' voting for candidates selected by their chiefs, provincial councils and church ministers.

''This leads me to ask the question whether or not the countries which are demanding Fiji to immediately return to democracy really understand how distorted and unfair our system is both legally and culturally.

''This must change. Every person will be given the right to vote for only one candidate, irrespective of race or religion. This will send a message out to our people that Fiji's leadership no longer tolerates racial divisions and race-based politics.'' Mr Bainimarama said the interim government is preparing to launch the Peoples Charter for Change and Progress to engage and involve the population in the planned reforms and to promote better relations between the country's indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities.

He said he staged the coup last year ''with extreme reluctance,'' but his country had suffered setback after setback, particularly after a brief coup in May 2000.

''In the past years, Fiji's overall governance took a dramatic turn for the worse. In particular this was characterised by the politicisation of the prison services and the criminal justice system.

''There was also a significant weakening of the key institutions of governance; a pervasive increase in corruption; serious economic decline combined with fiscal mismanagement; a sharp deterioration in the law-and-order situation; and a deepening of the racial divide in the country.

''The 2006 general election was not credible. It was characterised by massive rigging of votes with the incumbent government using the State's resources to buy support,'' the Prime Minister said.

As head of the military forces, Mr Bainimarama said he was responsible for Fiji's ''national security, defence and also the well-being of Fiji's people'' and therefore had no choice but to step in. He said he had made fruitless attempts to engage with the previous government.

Promising to convene free and fair elections ''as soon as practically possible,'' he said steady progress had already been made into strengthening the independence of the judiciary and investigating allegations of human rights abuses, as preparation for an eventual return to parliamentary democracy.


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