March 25, 2013

Fiji coup chief Frank Bainimarama says he'll run, and win

From: The Australian March 23, 2013 12:00AM

FIJI'S military ruler, Frank Bainimarama, has confirmed he will run in elections next year, and has given the nation two weeks to respond to a new constitution.

Commodore Bainimarama, who seized power from Laisenia Qarase in December 2006, told reporters in Suva yesterday he believed he would win the poll.

"I am confident that I will win, if not I won't be standing," he said. "I will have to form a party, but I have not decided on who will stand with me."

He has previously been coy about his intentions in the elections, the first since the coup.

He said earlier in a broadcast announcing the constitution - Fiji's fourth since independence in 1970 - that he would consider submissions before "implementing" it by decree on April 12.

The document assures the president, prime minister, ministers, all soldiers, police, prison officers, judges and public servants of "absolute and unconditional immunity, irrevocably granted", from prosecution or liability for anything they have done since the 2006 coup.

The only non-political officeholder exempted from the requirement to retire at 55 is the commander of the army. Commodore Bainimarama turns 59 on April 27.

The new constitution gives the army "the overall responsibility to ensure at all times the security, defence and wellbeing of Fiji and all its residents", underlining its status as the country's only remaining institution with authority.

Commodore Bainimarama said he had abandoned his pledge to have the constitution considered by a constituent assembly, "because of a lack of commitment by the political parties to register under the requirements of the law".

Thus, he said, "you, my fellow Fijians, you will be the new constituent assembly".

A decree earlier this year gave political parties four weeks to fulfil a series of onerous obligations to entitle them to registration. Only three of the 17 parties were able to complete their applications and they are all now subject to prolonged examination by the government, which has indicated that at least one may not be approved.

The constitution provides for a single-chamber parliament of 45 members to be elected for four years. But it accords "executive authority" to the president, who is to be chosen by parliament. Candidates for election must be "ordinarily resident" in Fiji for two years before nomination.

This rules out the prospect of Fijians who have been forced into exile or chose to leave during the period of military rule returning for the election, to be held by September next year.

"The idea," Commodore Bainimarama said, "is to attract good quality and honest politicians who will be paid accordingly and who won't be corrupt."

The lists of rights and freedoms in the new constitution are hedged by numerous conditions.

Freedom of expression, for example, is reined in by no fewer than eight caveats, and does not cover "insurrection against the constitution" just published.

The right to freedom of assembly has three exceptions, freedom of association has eight.

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