Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Clinton tells Fiji to go to the polls

Clinton tells Fiji to go to the polls - Tamara McLean, April 8, 2009
The Obama administration has turned up the heat on Fiji's military regime with calls by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to go to the polls this year.
Clinton has backed a deadline imposed by the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) for a 2009 election to restore democracy to the troubled country as soon as possible. "We join New Zealand in encouraging Fiji's interim government to abide by the Pacific Island Forum's benchmarks and timetable to restore democracy to that country," Clinton told journalists after a meeting with New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully in Washington.
"We share a common determination that democracy must not be extinguished there." Fiji's military leader Frank Bainimarama has broken several promises to hold elections since he staged a bloodless coup in December 2006, increasingly frustrating Australian and New Zealand diplomats.
The nation's historically loyal Pacific Island neighbours have also been worn down by endless delays, agreeing through the PIF to impose a May 1 deadline on Fiji to call an election or risk suspension from the group. The Commonwealth has imposed a deadline of its own, but Bainimarama has said he intends to first change Fiji's racially-based electoral system, which he blames for past instability.
The electoral changes are widely supported in the region but many are critical of the slow pace, poor regional communication and the regime's intentions. The US Ambassador to Fiji, Steve McGann, was openly critical of the regime when he spoke in Suva last month, and commentators say Clinton's comments will add more clout. "This sends the distinct message that the whole world is watching Fiji," said Professor Brij Lal, a specialist in Pacific issues at the Australian National University.
"The interim regime can now not avoid the fact that there is universal condemnation of their long stay in office."

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