Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Fiji to ban established politicians from election

Radio Australia Interview

03 March 2010

Fiji's military backed regime has announced that any politician who has played a role in the country's politics, since 1987, will be banned from contesting the promised elections in 2014. The announcement has been made by interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who told local media Fiji needs new politicians. But the decision has been criticised by existing political parties, and analysts, who believe the military wants to hand-pick a government, which will not question its actions.

Presenter: Pacific Correspondent Campbell Cooney

Speakers: Commodore Frank Bainimarama, Fiji's Interim Prime Minister; John Samy, Former Technical head of Fiji's National Council for Building a Better Fiji; Professor Brij Lal, Political Historian, ANU


COONEY: After Fiji's constitution was scrapped last Easter, coup leader and interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama made it clear the country's political parties would be banned from taking part in the much talked about President's Political Dialogue Forum. The forum was to be jointly facilitated by the Commonwealth and the United Nations. Only 12 months on it still hasn't been held, and with Fiji's military regime declaring no elections will 2014, that ban on political parties has been extended from taking part in political dialogues to a ban on them and their members or anyone involved in Fiji politics since the coup of 1987 contesting the proposed poll in four years time. Commodore Bainimarama spoke to Legend FM in Suva.

BAINIMARAMA: Politics is no good, it's no use for us now, there's words that politics that brought us to the events of 2006. Theirs was a politics that brought us to the events of '87 and 2000, and of course 2006. We need to get rid of that type of politics, we need to have a look at the young people that are coming up now.

COONEY: The interim government's plans for Fiji's future are laid out in the People's Charter for Constitutional Change. New Zealand based Fijian consultant John Samy was in charge of the process by which that charter was compiled and drafted.

SAMY: One really critical area that was highlighted was that of leadership, that traditionally Fiji has been dominated by rather parochial ethnic oriented divisive leadership, therefore if you're talking about building a more unified Fiji, we share the national identity and so on, the country does need forward looking visionary leaders.

COONEY: But the move has been condemned by Fiji's biggest political party the SDL, the party of former prime minister Laisenia Qarase, who was thrown out of office in 2006. Former minister in that government and also SDL party director Ted Young, left Fiji in May last year concerned about the repercussions for him and his family of his vocal criticism of the interim government. He's maintained that criticism from his new home in Australia and he is particularly unimpressed with the 2014 ban on established politicians.

YOUNG: That announcement was absurd and in fact to confirm that the SDL Party and the people who will be nominated by the SDL Party, whether they're past supporters or new ones, will stand in the coming elections.

COONEY: In November last year Professor Brij Lal from the Australian National University, a leading Fijian born academic and political historian, was also forced to leave Fiji because he had been critical of Commodore Bainimarama's actions.

LAL: Essentially what he wants to do is to have hand-picked people whom he consults and who rubberstamp his particular agenda. But I think that this will not help his cause at all because the international community, which is watching this very carefully, will not be fooled by this kind of action on the part of the military regime. On the one hand he asks for understanding and support from the international community, and on the other he effectively deprives people of their basic human rights, which is freedom of speech, freedom of political association.

COONEY: Ted Young from the SDL Party has given another reason why the military backed regime doesn't want old political rivals contesting the proposed election.

YOUNG: To my knowledge the regime will want to put up its own political party with its own people running for election because they fear the result.

COONEY: And while Fiji's elections are at least four years away Professor Lal says the military's already exerting pressure.

LAL: From the beginning of this year the military council has been very active, they've resolved that they will quell any dissent and dissenting voices. It is not reported in Fiji but I know for a fact that just last week a number of people who were casually meeting over a bowl of grog, their leaders were hauled up to the Queen Elizabeth barracks and told not to discuss politics, not to hold any kind of meetings. The repression is certainly going on.

COONEY: Mr Young has confirmed his party members were amongst those targeted last week.

YOUNG: Eleven of our SDL supporters, including two deposed cabinet ministers were taken into the army barracks by the military in civilian clothes and policemen in uniform. Our supporters were physically assaulted and verbally abused. They spend the night at the barracks and were released at four o'clock in the morning.

COONEY: Were they charged with anything?

YOUNG: No, not yet.

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