27 Sep 2008

No early elections, Fiji leader tells UN

10:25 pm on 27 September 2008

Fiji's interim prime minister has told the United Nations he wants to rebuild his country and confirmed no elections will take place early next year as promised.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who seized power in a bloodless coup in December 2006 and appointed himself prime minister, addressed the UN General Assembly in New York on Saturday.

It is the second time he has made a speech at the UN General Assembly since taking power. He told the meeting he had expected the world to rally behind his plans for Fiji, but "regrettably, so far, this has not happened".

Commodore Bainimarama has been accused of a host of human rights abuses since taking power and a crackdown on free speech.

"Our island nation must be re-built on the solid, rock-like foundations of equal rights, social justice, democracy and good governance," he told the UN.

"We cannot, and must not, repeat the mistake of trying to rebuild again on the proven, proverbial foundation of sand, which is washed away by the evils of self-interest, incompetence, intolerance and greed."

Broken promise to Pacific

In October last year Commodore Bainimarama promised Pacific leaders he would return Fiji to democratic rule by the end of March 2009, but on Saturday he confirmed that would not happen.

"We are not able to schedule an election, to return Fiji to parliamentary democracy, in the early part of 2009, as earlier anticipated."

He said Fiji's current communal voting system, which he has in the past described as "racist", must be changed before an election goes ahead.

"It is undemocratic and it does not provide for a free and fair election. It contravenes the principle of equal suffrage, as set out in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights," he told the UN.

Commodore Bainimarama said a People's Charter, a document which sets out broad political and social changes for Fiji, would guide the country to become non-racial, culturally vibrant, united, well-governed and truly democratic.

South Pacific leaders warned Fiji's government in August it could be suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum if it failed to hold elections in early 2009.

Sanctions 'harming' Fiji

Fiji's leader also told the UN that sanctions instituted since the coup were harming his country.

"Travel sanctions continue, imposed particularly by Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the USA.

"These sanctions have had significant, adverse effects on our economy as well as on the functioning of our key institutions of state, those on which we rely, to promote good governance and accountability."

In what appeared to be a reference to moves by Australia and New Zealand for the UN to suspend Fiji soldiers from peacekeeping duties, Commodore Bainimarama said "undue external influence" had been brought to bear.

"I express the hope that the opportunity will be extended to us to participate in new peacekeeping missions," he said.

He also talked about the impact of high global food and energy prices on Fiji and an economic downturn, saying the factors were having an immediate and serious impact.