Bainimarama rules out elections in Fiji this year

By Claire Trevett

A week before Pacific Island leaders meet to decide whether to suspend Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum, Commodore Frank Bainimarama has told them Fiji will not have an election this year.

The Fiji Sun yesterday reported Fiji's interim Prime Minister had written to the Pacific Islands Forum chairman Toke Talagi to say there would not be elections in 2009.

The Pacific Island leaders, including Prime Minister John Key, are due to meet in Port Moresby next week to decide whether to suspend Fiji from the forum.

It follows the unanimous decision at the 2008 Pacific Island Forum leaders' meeting in Niue to consider suspension if Fiji had not made progress toward holding an election by the end of 2008.

In the letter, Commodore Bainimarama reportedly reminds the forum about Fiji's sovereignty, and the right to a "fair hearing".

In an apparent swipe at New Zealand and Australia, it says the forum is based on "genuine Pacific dialogue" and that "bullying and neo-colonialism do not feature in the Pacific way".

Recently, Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum quelled rumours of a December election, saying 15 months would be needed to put electoral reforms in place.

In 2007, Commodore Bainimarama told the forum elections would be held in March 2009, which he later backed away from because he wanted to make electoral reforms first, in particular removing race-based seats.

On Radio Tarana yesterday, Commodore Bainimarama said it was possible he would not attend the Port Moresby meeting because of the flooding in Fiji. He boycotted the forum leaders' meeting in Niue last year.

New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully would not comment on the issue.

He will travel to Australia today for a six-monthly meeting with Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, where talks will include Fiji.

Both are part of the group of foreign ministers which visited Fiji in August to check the progress toward elections.

The group's report will be considered by the leaders in Port Moresby and form part of their decision.

- NZ Herald

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