Fiji’s military-led government announced it will lift emergency regulations in place since 2009, amid international pressure on authorities to restore democracy in the Pacific island nation.
The Public Emergency Regulations will end on Jan. 7 and public consultations on a new constitution will begin in February, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, the nation’s prime minister, said in a New Year’s address.
Australia and New Zealand, which have been at the forefront of criticism of Bainimarama since he toppled Fiji’s elected government in a 2006 coup, welcomed the announcement. The emergency laws gave the police and military extended powers, censored the media and limited freedom of association.
“While there are a range of steps that will be required before free and fair elections can be held, these are important moves in the right direction,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said in an e-mailed statement today.
Australia is ready to provide support for elections “once the interim government takes credible and concrete steps to restore democracy,” Acting Foreign Minister Martin Ferguson said in an e-mailed statement. Consultations on a new constitution should “involve a genuine, inclusive political dialogue between all the stakeholders, without predetermined outcomes,” he said.
Bainimarama says he wants to change the electoral system in the ethnically divided nation before holding a ballot. Under the present system, people in some constituencies can only vote for candidates from their ethnic community.
The 883,000-strong population is made up of 57 percent indigenous Fijians and 38 percent ethnic Indians, according to U.S. government data. Three of the nation’s four coups since 1987 were sparked by ethnic tensions.
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