July 26, 2011

SMH - Samoa: Fijian PM lying about elections

Tamara McLean, AAP South Pacific Correspondent
July 26, 2011 - 1:54PM

Samoa's prime minister has accused his Fijian counterpart of lying about his election plans, saying the military leader plans to hold on to office for years.

Samoan leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said he was saddened that Fiji's self-appointed prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, "appears to be doing everything he can" to hold back democracy in the military-led country.

"It's sad to see he's not taking advice to work with the region to help resolve the rift that exists, and he doesn't appear to be seriously working towards elections either," Mr Tuilaepa told AAP.

Cdre Bainimarama took control of Fiji in a military coup in December 2006 and has not held elections since, instead installing military officers in public positions and establishing emergency regulations that limit press and public freedoms.

He recently vowed to honour a promise for elections by September 2014, saying the extra time was needed to reform the country's unfair electoral system.

Mr Tuilaepa said he had "real doubts" about this promise.

"What the interim leader has been telling us is all lies," he said.

"I don't think there's been any progress made. And 2014 is a target which no one would take very seriously because of the contrary actions which the government has taken, like filling positions in the civil service with personnel from the military.

"It's simply not realistic to come to 2014 and tell these people who have been firmly entrenched in the top echelons of the government to go back to the barracks.

"I don't think he's planning to go anywhere for many years to come."

Fiji's government spokeswoman Sharon Smith-Johns said on Tuesday plans for 2014 elections still stood and any comments by naysayers were "completely irrelevant".

"It shows a lack of understanding from certain individuals regarding the progress that Fiji is making with regards to reforms, and demonstrates a low level of understanding of the impact these reforms are positively having on the country," she said.

Mr Tuilaepa is unfazed by Fiji's criticism, saying talking about regional worries was the "Pacific way".

He raised concerns that the annual Pacific Islands Forum meeting, to be held in Auckland in September, may be hijacked by the issue of Fiji, which was banned from the group in 2009.

"We have a lot of important things to discuss about regional trade, work programs and building ties," Mr Tuilaepa said.

"We need to be sure we can actually talk about these things and not just talk about the problem of Fiji."

A report on Fiji is expected to be tabled at the meeting, but Mr Tuilaepa said he didn't expect any progress that would allow Fiji to rejoin the regional meetings.

"Democratic principles have to be respected, the same principles we all adhere to. That's not happening in Fiji."

"It is the urgent wish of every forum member that Fiji comes back to the fold to rejoin the forum but you can only do so much. It's up to the Fijians to decide what their status is."

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