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No Elections on Horizon as Fiji Dismisses Commonwealth Suspension

By Phil Mercer
02 September 2009

Fiji's military government says its suspension from the 53-nation Commonwealth is the price it must pay for reforming the country's troubled political system. The grouping of former British colonies has punished the South Pacific nation for its failure to restore democracy following a coup in December 2006.

The Commonwealth has suspended Fiji because the military refuses to hold credible elections by October 2010.

The decision means that all aid from the grouping of former British colonies has been temporarily severed and Fijian athletes are banned from the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India.

Fiji's acting prime minister, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, calls the suspension disappointing and unfortunate, but says there is no way the military-led administration could meet the Commonwealth's election deadline.

The army seized power in December 2006, accusing the elected government of corruption and racism toward the country's ethnic Indian minority.

Since then the military has embarked on what it has described as a cleaning process designed to reform public institutions, while censoring the media and clamping down on dissent.

New Zealand's foreign minister, Murray McCully, says that suspending Fiji from the Commonwealth was necessary.

"If there is anything that underpins the Commonwealth and holds it together, it is a shared commitment to democracy, rule of law, human rights," McCully noted, "and Fiji has been given plenty of warnings that is has to show some respect for those basic principles. It is the glue that holds the Commonwealth together and if the Commonwealth had done nothing then the Commonwealth would have stood for nothing."

Critics accused Fiji's army strongman, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, of behaving like a dictator as the nation's economy slips into recession and its international reputation lies in tatters.

The commodore has repeatedly ignored international calls for democracy to be restored and says his government will not hold elections for at least five years.

Fiji also was suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum in May and the European Union has suspended aid.

Commodore Bainimarama is expected to meet with the Commonwealth's special representative to Fiji, former New Zealand Governor General Sir Paul Reeves, when he visits the country next week.

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