Fiji’s military government will move on Saturday to lift a state of emergency it imposed in 2009, as the country prepares to open consultation on a new constitution, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said in a New Year’s message.
The Public Emergency Regulations gave police and the military extended powers, imposed tough censorship on the South Pacific nation’s media and tightly controlled public assembly.
The military government of 2006 coup leader Commodore Bainimarama overturned the country’s Constitution in 2009, imposing emergency rule after the nation’s Court of Appeal ruled the military government was illegal.
In his statement late on Sunday, Mr. Bainimarama stressed that public order would be maintained and that he would soon announce nationwide consultation for a new constitution, beginning next month, to establish a democratically elected government.
While Mr. Bainimarama gave no details of what will replace martial law, his regime has already created a media council with powers that ensure the state’s continuing control over what is published.
“The (new) constitution must establish a government that is founded on an electoral system that guarantees equal suffrage, a truly democratic system based on the principal of one person, one vote, one value,” he said.
“We will not have a system that will classify Fijians based on ethnicity,” he said, adding that votes would be extended to 18-year-olds.
Mr. Bainimarama has broken earlier pledges to return to elections, but for the past two years has consistently claimed elections will be held in 2014.
When he seized power in a bloodless coup, Mr. Bainimarama said Fiji’s ruling political classes were corrupt, and that the existing voting system was racially based to give indigenous Fijians greater voting power than the ethnic Indians who make up around 35 per cent of the nation’s 900,000 people.
He said Fiji had been mismanaged and hindered by greed and selfishness.
“You and I must not allow a few to dictate the destiny of our country for their own selfish needs,” he repeated in his message Sunday.
Relations between Fiji and many countries have soured since Mr. Bainimarama seized power, and he has remained under heavy pressure to return Fiji to democracy.
Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions and financial penalties imposed on the government. Fiji remains suspended from the British-led Commonwealth grouping of 53 nations mainly former British colonies.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, a staunch critic of the military government, said on Monday he “welcomes the announcement that the regulations are to be lifted and the announcement that public consultations will commence on a new constitution in February.”
While “a range of steps that will be required before free and fair elections can be held, these are important moves in the right direction,” he said in a statement.
“The international community will want to see these changes improve the lives and freedoms of ordinary Fijians,” McCully said.