Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Washington criticises Fiji election delay

Washington criticises Fiji election delay

SUVA (AFP) — Washington on Monday condemned the Fijian military regime's roadmap for a return to democracy and its suppression of the media and free speech. Military leader Voreqe Bainimarama, who overthrew the elected government in a 2006 coup, said last week that a new constitution would be introduced by September 2013, a year before planned elections to restore democracy.

In a statement released through the US embassy in Suva, the State Department said it supported steps to hasten Fiji's return to a constitution and free elections. But it said "the roadmap falls short of that goal". "It is imposed without the participation or consent of the Fijian people and it delays the process leading to elections," the State Department said. "We are also concerned that public emergency regulations that curb freedoms of speech, press and political assembly remain in place." Fiji has been suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum and is expected to face similar action from the British Commonwealth after Bainimarama broke a promise to hold elections to restore democracy by March this year. In April he abrogated the constitution, sacked the judiciary, and introduced emergency regulations after a court ruled his regime was illegal.

Last week the military strongman told Radio Fiji that the emergency regulations would stay in place until the end of the year. The new constitution will remove the ethnic-based voting system introduced in the 1997 version, he says. He blames the voting system for aggravating racial divisions because most of the legislative seats are chosen along racial lines by the majority indigenous population and minority ethnic Indians.

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