Fiji polls up to 10 years away, says coup leader

By Claire Trevett in Port Moresby

Prime Minister John Key expressed disappointment today at suggestions from Fiji that a democratic election could be five or even 10 years away.

Mr Key was speaking to reporters in Papua New Guinea this morning ahead of a special summit of Pacific Islands Forum countries on Fiji's return to democracy.

But the website Fiji Village is reporting today that military commander and self-appointed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama indicated that that day could be a long way off.

Fijivillage.com says that at a military parade at the Queen Elizabeth II barracks yesterday he said it was important to implement the People's Charter before any election and it did not matter if it took five or 10 years.

He said the military was in talks with his ministers about changes to the constitution and that it would take the Electoral Commission about 15 months to prepare for an election once an electoral system was approved.

Mr Bainimarama wants a return to a system of one vote per person, overturning the racially-based system implemented under reforms that followed the military coups in the 1980s.

He has gone back on his pledge to the Forum summit in Tonga in 2007 that elections would be held by March 2009.

Mr Key indicated the Forum might set its own timetable on Fiji for elections to be held.

Mr Key also expressed frustration that Pacific Island Forum leaders were constantly focusing on Fiji, saying countries wanted to spend more time focusing on their own problems in hard economic times.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd arrived in Port Moresby this morning. Mr Key is planning to hold bilateral talks with him before the Pacific summit due to get underway at 5pm New Zealand Time.

Meanwhile, the publisher of the Fiji Times, Rex Gardner has been ordered to leave Fiji less than nine months after his predecessor, Evan Hannah, was ordered to leave by the military-led Government.

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