Home >news >world >Fiji strongman short-circuits constitution process

Suva: Fiji’s military leader on Thursday scrapped plans to hold an assembly to review a proposed new constitution, saying he wanted opinions directly from the people since opposition parties could not be trusted.

Voreqe Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup, said plans to gather church groups, political parties and civil society groups into a constituent assembly to review the draft charter were no longer viable.

“Unfortunately, this modification has been forced upon us because of the lack of commitment by the political parties to register under the requirements of the law," he said in a televised national address.

Bainimarama said some political parties which would have been part of the constituent assembly were being investigated for fraudulently boosting their membership numbers.

“Instead of presenting the draft to the constituent assembly under the previous arrangement, we will be presenting it directly to you—my fellow Fijians, you will be the new constituent assembly," he said.

Bainimarama said feedback could be sent before 5 April via an email address which would be publicised in coming days.

The military leader rules Fiji by decree and has curbed freedom of speech and assembly since taking power, as well as muzzling local media.

In January, he ditched a draft constitution prepared by an academic panel.

The original draft, never officially released, was believed to have called for the military, a key player in the four coups the Pacific nation has endured since 1987, to stay out of politics after the 2014 elections.

A month later the government issued a decree imposing restrictions on political parties and 14 of the 17 opposition parties were deregistered.

Bainimarama has pledged to hold elections in September next year. However, a similar vow to hold a poll in 2009 was never honoured, resulting in Fiji being suspended from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum.

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