April 07, 2014

NZ 3 News: Fiji under pressure to hold free and fair elections

Tuesday 01 Apr 2014 9:06a.m.

Prime Minister John Key is hopeful Fiji's upcoming elections will be free and fair, but if they're not, New Zealand would consider taking action.

New Zealand and Australia announced on Monday that they were lifting travel sanctions against Fiji to recognise the steps the Pacific Island nation is making towards holding democratic elections.

Last week Fiji's military rulers set September 17 as the date for the first democratic elections since Frank Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 military coup and installed himself as Prime Minister.

Mr Key said on Firstline this morning that there have been "substantial changes" made in Fiji in recent times and the lifting of the travel ban recognises that.

"In the end, if (Bainimarama) doesn't hold free and fair elections, then we'll go and reconsider what happens next," Mr Key said.

"Our hope obviously is that it is. We've provided support, our electoral 
officers have been in Fiji and will continue to be in Fiji, we're offering support to the interim government to make sure they are free and fair."

Labour leader David Cunliffe has backed the Government's move to lift sanctions.

"However there is still work to be done. It is important that restrictions on media in Fiji are lifted as they will be a key part of free and fair elections," he said.

Fiji's interim government said in a statement on Monday it's pleased with the decision of New Zealand and Australia to lift all existing sanctions.

"The Fijian government has always believed that the sanctions were ill-conceived and served only to discourage talented and qualified individuals from serving the Fijian people," the statement said.

"The removal of sanctions is a positive step towards restoring normal relations between our governments. The relations between our peoples has never weakened."

Fijian Coalition for Democracy spokesperson Nik Naidu says only "time will tell" whether the elections will be free and fair.

"It's going to be hard," he said on Firstline this morning.

"I think it possibly will be free and fair provided the results go Mr Bainimarama's way. If they don't, then there's a huge chance there will be another coup."

He puts the chances of Mr Bainimarama winning September's election at 50 percent.

"Having had restrictions on the media over the last seven or eight years, and propaganda out there by the regime, he's pretty popular there."

As Fijian voters in the past have cast ballots generally along ethnic lines, Mr Naidu says ethnic Fijian parties are likely to win 65 to 70 percent of the vote.

NZN / 3 News

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