Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fiji Labour Party Calls for Early Return to Democracy

Radio Australia Pacific Beat - 24 May 2011

The leader of Fiji's Labour Party has called for fresh elections to replace the coup installed military government within a year and a half.

At the moment the interim government has said elections will be held in 2014.

But Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry says President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau should initiate a dialogue to hasten the country's return to democracy.

He says the present regime has presided over worsening of the economy, poverty is rising and there is no national dialogue about Fiji's future direction.

Mr Chaudhry says he was initially in favour of the 2006 coup which brought military head Commodore Frank Bainimarama to power, but that's changed now.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speaker: Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji Labour Party leader

CHAUDHRY: Well I left the interim government in August 2008 and I had my differences with them so we parted, and of course following the abrogation of the constitution in April 2009, things became progressively bad as far as I was concerned because of the question of Public Emergency Regulations being imposed, people's rights were affected as a result of that and there were excesses committed under that which of course was a major concern for the Fiji Labour Party. But we have drawn attention to the Prime Minister and also the President in writing about our concerns regarding the manner in which Fiji is being governed. In fact I wrote to the Prime Minister last year and then followed it up with a reminder but didn't get any acknowledgement. I followed that up with the President also in writing raising the same issues, and requesting an audience, but again I was disappointed that there was no acknowledgement about it in correspondence.

HILL: It's very difficult obviously to be in opposition in a coup-installed military regime isn't it?

CHAUDHRY: Well it is but we have to do our duty, we have to raise concerns for the people and this is what we did, so we cannot be accused of doing anything behind the backs of the authorities here. But at least we deserve a response I believe and we didn't get that.

HILL: Ratu Tevita Mara specifically says that a lot of the people, and he mentioned your name specifically, who initially supported the coup, now no longer do. Would you say that's a fair comment, are the people who initially supported the coup now backing away from it?

CHAUDHRY: Well we want to get back to democratic rule. My participation in the regime was on the basis of getting the country back to democracy as soon as possible, and you will recall that elections were then promised for April 2009 but that didn't happen. So as far as our participation was concerned it was not to stay their forever, but to set a framework for return to democracy and this hasn't happened and it's taking a long time.

HILL: Well elections are now promised for 2014, do you believe that those elections will be held? Is the Commodore sincere when he says that is when elections will be held?

CHAUDHRY: Well he has reiterated that on several occasions that elections will take place under the new constitution in 2014. There are some who don't believe him but we'll have to wait and see.

HILL: I guess I'm asking you if you believe it though?

CHAUDHRY: Well I have to take him on his word but at the moment there is not much in the way of preparation that I can see to meet that deadline. But according to him next year there will be a committee appointed to review the constitution, the new constitution is expected to be in place in 2013 and elections to be held under that constitution in 2014. By then they will have been in office for eight long years.

HILL: Let me put you on the spot to a certain degree and ask you a very direct question, do you support the continued existence of this coup-installed military government or do you think it's time to change to something else?

CHAUDHRY: No I think we need to get back to democratic rule as soon as possible and elections should be held as soon as possible and it can be done within 12 to 15 months.

HILL: How do you propose to do that though?

CHAUDHRY: It's not a question of how do I propose to do it, that is what we'd like to see happen, but we are not in control, somebody else is in control and he has set a deadline of 2014 so there we are unless the President decides that we should have dialogue to see if we can hasten the process of return to democracy.

HILL: And that's what you'd like to see, the President to call people together and get elections sooner than 2014?

CHAUDHRY: What is bothering me is that there is absolutely no dialogue internally with the people's representatives, with political parties and others on this issue, there's absolutely no dialogue. And this is a matter of grave concern, because how would you have a satisfactory roadmap back to democracy worked out without dialogue and discussion? And now is the time to engage in that process. If the process is going to be stage managed then I'm afraid the outcome might not be as desirable as people might want to see it.

HILL: What about the state of the economy? Has the economy improved at all?

CHAUDHRY: Unfortunately no, the economy's still sliding and we've had three straight years of negative growth and our debt level has gone up considerably, it is a major issue now that the debt levels might be unsustainable. The poverty levels have also gone up in the last three-four years, and inflation is high. People are worse off today than they were probably three or four years ago.

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FDFM Australia's response to Mahendra Chaudary
This is the voice that once lent its support to the illegal regime. Coming to grips with the consequences of any form of usurpation of power has proven to be the reality that altered Mahendra Chaudhry’s view of Bainimarama’s illegal government. The only surprising thing, at this point in time, is why this obvious fact about illegal regimes escaped one who has been on the receiving end of illegal take-overs not once but twice.


The Bainimarama regime will be in power 5 years this coming December. It has been confirmed by the leader of the Labour Party that Fiji’s economy is still on a downward spiral and that people are worse off now than during the time of the take-over in 2006. I am of the view that he (MC) knew that the illegal takeover will not assist him, his party or the country in any way, shape or form and that it would bring untold adversity across the board.


There is a wind of change blowing and gathering force at every turn. It is most welcome at this time as we all yearn for the country to recover, participate meaningfully in the region, and be the pillar it once was in the South Pacific. One other notable figure has had a public change of face in recent days.


Needless to say the majority of the people in Fiji do welcome the winds of change blowing through our land.


Our senior politicians, public servants, academics, business heads and also leaders of our neighbouring Pacific Islands all agree that we need to return to democratic rule as quickly as possible, and for Fiji to get back on par with the region and the world.


As the Interim President of FDFM Australia, I welcome Mahendra Chaudhry’s change of heart and support of the FDFM goal for the complete and democratic liberation of our country. I hope that there will be more people coming out of the woodwork in support of democracy and the positive transformation of our nation.


Suliasi Daunitutu (Interim President FDFM Australia)
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