Military 'may rule Fiji for up to five years'

Fiji’s military, which seized power in a coup in December, could rule the South Pacific country for as long as five years before restoring democracy, a delegation of regional officials has been told.

Fiji’s military, which seized power in a coup in December, could rule the South Pacific country for as long as five years before restoring democracy, a delegation of regional officials has been told.

Members of a so-called “eminent persons group” from Australia and some of Fiji’s Pacific neighbours today completed a four-day mission to consult with officials from Fiji’s military, its ousted government and other influential groups about how to restore democracy.

Military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who appointed an interim government with himself as prime minister after ousting elected leader Laisenia Qarase on December 5, has promised to call elections to restore democracy, but not until he has completed what he calls a campaign to clean up graft, which he alleges was allowed to fester.

Arnold Amet, a retired chief justice of Papua New Guinea, said the delegation heard varied opinions on how long it would take to restore democracy.

“It ranges from 12 months to five years more or less,” Amet told a news conference. “That’s what been said to us.”

The group, which was appointed at an emergency meeting of the 14-member South Pacific Forum of nations late last year to try to avert the coup, will report to the forum’s foreign ministers on possible steps Fiji can take to “move swiftly and peacefully toward the restoration of democratic government,” the forum said in a statement.

Gen. Peter Cosgrove, a retired head of Australia’s defence forces, said the forum would likely “remain engaged and to seek further opportunities to help Fiji back to normality”.

The governments of Australia, New Zealand and other nations do not recognise the military government and have demanded an immediate restoration of democracy.

Bainimarama overthrew Qarase after a long dispute about government-backed bills that would have granted amnesty to plotters in a 2000 coup and handed lucrative coastal land rights to indigenous Fijians, apart from alleged corruption.

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