Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Bainimarama: "We want these reforms and the last thing we want is opposition"
The Fiji military chief, Voreqe Bainimarama, says he is determined to make changes to the country's electoral system and he does not want opposition to them.
He told Radio New Zealand National this was why he introduced emergency regulations which included media censorship.
"We want to do these changes, we want to come up with these reforms and the last thing we want to have is opposition throughout."
He says a survey showed 64 percent of Fiji wanted electoral reform.
"This is nothing to do with the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government; this is to do with Fiji and the people of Fiji....
"We want changes."
The Commodore insisted this would make Fiji a better place.
Asked if a Radio New Zealand reporter could visit Fiji, Bainimarama says it was not necessary: "You just ask me the questions; I will give you the answers."
He attacked a Court of Appeal ruling last week which said the military coup had been illegal.
He says they produced a 52 page judgment in 24 hours.
"It is obvious that they made that decision long before they got to Fiji."
Meanwhile, he has has unleashed a fresh purge amid claims that he fears he could himself be the victim of a military rebellion.
Well-placed sources say the 2006 coup leader, who narrowly survived a military mutiny in 2000, was worried that elements of the military could turn on him as the political and economic situation in Fiji spiralled downwards.
In what one former rival described as a "naked power grab", Commodore Bainimarama yesterday moved against the Reserve Bank and legal profession in a wave of arrests and intimidation.
The regime also stepped up its crackdown on the media and free speech, with sources in Suva saying a special military unit was monitoring the internet.
Government censors were placed in newsrooms at the weekend and the media has been warned to not carry "negative" stories about the regime.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says if Fiji's military regime does not do a "miraculous turnaround" and commit to elections soon then the economic consequences will be dire.
Speaking to journalists in Beijing, Mr Key said that recent events in Fiji mean the country is being given a "passport to poverty" by Commodore Bainimarama.
The moves in recent days had taken democratic elections off the table for five years and that was unacceptable.
"The economic implications for Fiji will be dire if they don't have elections in that time I understand their economy is becoming more and more stressed by the day," Mr Key said.
Mr Key said he was very concerned about the recent events in the Pacific nation.
"In some sense I think it was predictable, because I don't think Frank [Voreqe] Bainimarama had ever shown a desire to restore democracy in Fiji," Mr Key said.
The occupation of the Reserve Bank meant Fiji now also faced even further exchange risks.
"That is one of the serious issues that their economy is facing but not the only one. It is hard to see that there will be any inbound investment in Fiji, we know tourism numbers are falling. . . Frank Bainimarama is effectively delivering a passport to poverty."
The Pacific Forum had set a deadline of May the 1st to set a timeline for elections or face expulsion and Mr Key said this process would continue unless there was a massive turnaround by the regime.
The Commonwealth is expected to follow suit and suspend Fiji soon after, leaving it internationally isolated at a time when it is likely to need help to prop up a rapidly failing economy.
PEACEKEEPER USE CRITICISED
The United Nations is playing into the Fiji military's hands by continuing to use peacekeepers from the island nation, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says.
The military, led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has run Fiji since staging a 2006 coup and Mr McCully yesterday said the UN should stop using those same soldiers.
"Quite frankly, the fact that the UN continues to use Fijian peacekeepers plays into the hands of the interim regime," he said.
"They sustain the interim regime both in terms of credibility and in terms of cash.
"It's very regrettable that the UN continues to do that and, in light of current circumstances, I'll be raising that issue again directly with them."
New Zealand and Australia already have trade and travel sanctions in place against Fiji, and Mr McCully said suspension from the Pacific Island Forum looked certain.
"I don't think there's much prospect that we're going to see anything other than a suspension from the forum," Mr McCully said.
"I think it's true that the Commonwealth, the UN, the EU, other organisations internationally take their lead from the regional organisation, so forum members will no doubt look at whether there is any collective action they should take."
Mr McCully also warned holidaymakers to think "long and hard" about visiting Fiji.
"Clearly the military regime is looking to assert itself and that is why we've been warning New Zealanders to think carefully about whether they need to go to Fiji at the moment, because the situation is volatile and uncertain," he said.
"There are probably a lot of very safe places to hang out on the beach. It's just that to get to them you've got to pass by some authorities that are now under the control of. . . a military that is behaving in a manner that is less predictable than we've been used to."
However, Mr McCully all but ruled out imposing a travel ban on New Zealanders, saying to restrict people's freedom in that way would make the Government no better than the Fiji's administration.
It was also unlikely trade sanctions would be toughened as they tended to punish innocent people.
By Michael Field and Martin Kay with NZPA