The statement by Fiji's interim Prime Minister, Commodore Bainimarama, that the March 2009 elections he had promised is "unachievable" has drawn heavy criticisms and reactions.According to Fiji Times Online, Bainimarama had made the statement last week in an interview with Radio Fiji saying that "there will be no elections next year", admitting that the March 2009 election timeline was unachievable.
Bainimarama had told leaders from around the region at last year's Forum meeting that Fiji would hold democratic elections next year and has time and time again reaffirmed this.
In his interview with Radio Fiji, he added that promises were made because "the Pacific Islands Forum chairman and Tongan Prime Minister Dr Feleti Sevele informed him that the international community would be flexible if more time was needed by Fiji"'.
He told Radio Fiji that Dr. Sevele, the Prime Minister of Tonga, insisted that he remove the 'in principal' because it was not telling the international community that Fiji was going to have elections.
Bainimarama said, "What I gathered was that he said whilst you kept the in principal in front of the March 2009 - it tells the international community you will never have elections so take away the in principal, keep the March 2009 - announce to them the March 2009 and if there's any extra time for elections that you want, we will be quite flexible coming out with additional timing so I took that on board and that's how I came up with March 2009 at the Forum on the understanding if there's need to be an extension in time the International Community will be very flexible."
Dr. Sevele, on his part, said that the Pacific Islands Forum Ministers 'had only agreed of being flexible with Fiji about extending its election deadline if reasonable steps towards holding the elections as promised was taken and if the Fijian Government was unable to attain it'.
"Our response was that if he, the Commodore, wanted the Forum and the wider international community to believe that he was being serious about holding the elections in 2009, then the phrase in principle should not be included in the text of the communiqu," Dr Sevele said.
"And, in any case, the Forum Leaders did not want such a diluting qualification in the communiqu. We also added that if having taken all reasonable steps towards holding the elections as promised, the Fiji interim Government found that it was genuinely and practically impossible for Fiji to hold free and fair elections in the first quarter of 2009, then the Forum Leaders would, as reasonable people, be flexible about extension of the agreed deadline."
Meanwhile, responses to Bainimarama's statement have been fast and frank. According to Fiji Times Online, the US State Department believes that since committing to an election next year in March, Fiji's interim Government has continuously looked for ways to slow progress towards elections and in a statement, the US accused Bainimarama of 'deliberately slowing a return to democracy'.
It 'cited Fiji's decision to suspend participation in a regional working group designed to assist the return to democracy as evidence the interim Government was delaying promised elections'.
New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, believes Bainimarama could be aiming for the highest post in Fiji, the presidency, 'a move she says that could give him immunity from prosecution', according to Stuff.co.nz.
'Ms Clark said the move by Fiji's interim PM was disappointing but she believed he had never intended to keep his pledge made to leaders at last year's Pacific Islands Forum in Tonga to hold a general election by March 2009', saying Bainimarama's 'broken promises have caught up with him'.
From within Fiji itself, ousted Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, removed by Bainimarama in the 2006 military coup, said that it came as a shock and disappointment, adding, "I know there will be a lot of anger from the people since we were all promised about elections next year. The international community and the forum were informed about this promise of election'.
A political party in Fiji, the National Federation Party, said through its secretary, Parmod Rae, that 'the interim Prime Minister is always changing his tune on elections' and that it was "no use running after him asking him to stick to his promise of an election next year".
However, a day after stating that there would be no elections, Bainimarama said that elections are a must for Fiji but that it will not happen next year.
Fiji, according to Bainimarama, will only hold elections if the interim government's planned electoral reforms are carried out as the current system brings about racial division.