Calls to defend Fiji's fragile democracy a year after elections
A year on from Fiji's landmark elections, the coup-plagued country's head of state Ratu Epeli Nailatikau is calling for the fledgling democracy to be defended.
Fiji's head of state Ratu Epeli Nailatikau has called for the country's fledgling democracy to be defended amid fears of instability a year on from landmark elections.
Fiji went to the polls exactly twelve months ago giving the former military commander Frank Bainimarama a near two thirds majority in parliament after eight years of ruling by decree.
So, a year on how is democracy faring in the coup-plagued country?
Sally Round reports from Suva.
After a display of pomp and ceremony outside parliament, it was Ratu Epeli's forceful address at the opening of the new session which stole the show. His call to defend democracy follows the police rounding up dozens of mainly indigenous Fijians for alleged involvement in a plan to form breakaway Christian states. The Land Force Commander Colonel Sitiveni Qiliho has defended the military's deployment of troops as police investigations continue.
COLONEL SITIVENI QILIHO: If we have a defined role in the constitution and we sit back in the barracks and not act on it then what's the point of our being there? We are exercising our role as defined in the constitution and that is the security and well being of Fiji.
The leader of the opposition Ro Teimumu Kepa has been concerned at the military's show of force.
RO TEIMUMU KEPA: The heavy-handed way that these people have been dealt with in terms of sending the military to the areas where the court cases are being held. Why are they intimidating these people and causing great fear amongst them?
Ro Teimumu says one year on from the elections the country is still in transition. And in parliament she says it's been difficult working under a system put in place by the Bainimarama regime. She says bills are fast-tracked and there's little time for debate.
RO TEIMUMU KEPA: Sometimes we think we are taking one step forward and two steps back because some of the decrees are still in place. There's the new constitution that we are working with. They still have in their mindset this dictatorship in that whatever they want goes and they have the numbers.
But the government whip and former navy commander Semi Koroilavesau says the opposition is in disarray and prone to outbursts not backed up by facts.
SEMI KOROILAVESAU: I'm learning a lot of things but I find difficulty in trying to work with the opposition to manage our relationship. They have to work as a cohesive team and provide a concerted and meaningful opposition. If they don't do that the next three years will be very difficult for them.
The deputy prime minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says democracy has brought increased engagement and confidence in the country.
AIYAZ SAYED-KHAIYUM: A lot of countries are a lot more engaged now with Fiji. A number of multilateral partners are engaged with Fiji, so that obviously increases our opportunities. I think the trick for us now is to take advantage of these opportunities and be clever about it.
The head of the Fiji Women's Rights Movement Tara Chetty says there has been a loosening of space for community groups like hers but she says eight years of military rule has left its legacy.
TARA CHETTY: There is still concern out there. People don't like to be viewed as too political, people don't like to be too outspoken. There is still that fear around, standing out and being perceived as speaking out too strongly.
The last year has seen a slight easing of decreed media rules but hefty fines remain for publishers and editors for breaking strict guidelines on reporting. The president of Fiji's Media Association Ricardo Morris says the restrictions mean hesitation to rock the boat.
RICARDO MORRIS: There has been some reporting which shows that journalists and their editors and media companies have been trying to push the envelope and trying to push the boundaries that we've known for quite a while. The media in Fiji's still trying to feel its way.
Mr Morris says a Freedom of Information bill being introduced this year will improve the media environment.
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