Democracy returns to Fiji 16 months after coup

Democracy has returned to Fiji's parliament for the first time since armed nationalists stormed its debating chamber 16 months ago.

Democracy has returned to Fiji's parliament for the first time since armed nationalists stormed its debating chamber 16 months ago.

71 of the 72 new democratically elected MPs were sworn in amid tight security.

The one missing politician was George Speight, the coup leader who won a seat in elections last month despite being in jail.

Speight is awaiting trial on treason charges that carry the death penalty. He has launched a court bid to be released on bail so he can be sworn in later this week.

The parliament is dominated by the nationalist Fijian United Party of prime minister Laisenia Qarase, which has elected as deputy parliamentary speaker an indigenous Fijian under investigation for his role in last year's coup.

Adding to the country's ongoing political instability, Qarase's coalition government is under legal threat with Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry, who was deposed as prime minister in the coup in May 2000, claiming in court his party was illegally shut out of Qarase's Cabinet.

Under Fiji's constitution, which Qarase has pledged to change, any party winning more than 10% of seats in parliament must be offered Cabinet posts. Labour won 27 seats.

Qarase refused to let Labour join his administration because he said the ethnic Indian-dominated party did not support his hardline nationalist agenda.

Chaudhry, who was held hostage in Parliament by Speight and his armed supporters for 56 days last year, refused to be sworn in as leader of the opposition, pending the outcome of his legal challenge.

Speight launched his coup saying he wanted to restore power to Fiji's indigenous people, who make up 51% of the 820,000 population. He toppled Chaudhry, who was the first prime minister from the nation's 44% ethnic-Indian minority.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox