28 Jan 2009

Key and Bainimarama at loggerheads over Fiji

9:24 pm on 28 January 2009

Prime Minister John Key has dismissed Fiji's latest reaction to being told to call elections as "ridiculous".

The Pacific Islands Forum decided on Tuesday that Fiji must announce a date for elections by May 1 and hold elections by December, or face a raft of sanctions.

Fiji's self-appointed leader Frank Bainimarama has likened that directive to "an act of war".

Mr Key, in the Solomon Islands on his way back from the forum leaders' meeting in Papua New Guinea, has responded by saying that that's a totally ridiculous statement.

Don't hold your breath, warns Bainimarama

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Frank Bainimarama told Auckland-based Radio Tarana that he'd already explained to Mr Key and the forum leaders that it could take five to 10 years to hold elections.

He said Mr Key did not understand Fiji's affairs and should refrain from making comments about them.

Mr Bainimarama, clearly in no hurry to hold elections, said that the forum shouldn't hold its breath waiting for instant action.

Electoral reform was Fiji's priority, he said, and given that the country was not in crisis, the forum had no legitimate authority to impose further sanctions.

"I've never come across a situation where a country gives an ultimatum to another country," he said, "unless of course it's a declaration of war. It is going to be a long wait."

'You can't tell him what to do'

The New Zealand Fiji Business Council doesn't think strong-arm tactics will persuade Fiji to hold an election.

Council chairman Rick Reid says the date is unrealistic and and he doesn't think Mr Bainimarama will take it seriously.

Mr Reid says his feeling is that the more the world tries to tell the Fiji regime what to do, the less likely it is to do it.

Key, Clark say it can easily happen

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says officials working with Fiji electoral staff have told a ministerial contact group that it is possible to hold an election within six months.

And the Labour Party's foreign affairs spokesperson, Helen Clark, says there's no practical barrier to Fiji holding elections before the end of the year. Nor, she says, is there any basis for claims that Fiji can't afford to go to the polls.

The United States has backed the forum's demand for free elections by the end of the year, and the Auckland-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji says it's a good decision for the region.

Solomons Prime Minister Derek Sikua says he supports the forum communique but will continue to talk with Mr Bainimarama and urge him to move Fiji towards democracy.

Listen to more on Checkpoint