Fiji on slide into desperate state - expert

Fiji is sliding into a "desperate state" as its military leadership continues to thumb its nose at a looming election deadline.

Pacific analysts are warning that the country's political and financial position is more fragile than ever.

"Things are really heating up in terms of violence and threats on the media, and money-wise the place is in dire straits," says Professor Brij Lal, a specialist in Pacific issues at the Australian National University (ANU).

Fiji's military leader Frank Bainimarama has been in power since a bloodless coup in December 2006.

He has refused to hold an election to restore democracy. Commodore Bainimarama says that before going to the polls, the electoral system must be overhauled to make it fairer for the country's Fijian Indian minority.

The unclear intentions of the regime have frustrated New Zealand, Australia and smaller Pacific nations.

In January, via the Pacific Islands Forum, they gave Fiji a May 1 deadline to announce an election date.

But the interim Government is refusing to budge: "We will not be told what to do or when to do it by ... any other country," senior government spokesman Neumi Leweni said.

Fiji's coffers are running dry, with government departments recently ordered to reduce their operating budgets by 50 per cent to stay afloat.

"The economy is in a desperate state," said Dr Jon Fraenkel of ANU.

The European Union has warned that the country's biggest export industry, sugar, is at risk if no election is held.

Three international reports published since January have raised concerns about aspects of human rights, and the International Federation of Journalists has warned of increasing threats to press freedom.

Once the May 1 deadline passes, the Pacific Islands Forum will have to decide decide if it will suspend Fiji.

Fiji academic Dr Steven Ratuva, of the University of the South Pacific, says the forum has "shot itself in the foot" with the ultimatum.

"Suspension was designed to hurt Fiji but ultimately it's the region that will suffer, as will the small countries like Tuvalu and Kiribati that virtually rely on Fiji to keep going," Dr Ratuva says.

Another way forward is political talks to be held between party heads to discuss electoral reform.

But in the past few days Commodore Bainimarama has threatened to exclude key leaders, including ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

"If that happens it will render the process useless and we're back to square one," Dr Fraenkel says.

- AAP

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