Islands suspended from Commonwealth for lack of electoral progress

The Commonwealth has suspended Fiji, where a military ruler took power in a bloodless coup in December 2006, for failing to meet a deadline on taking steps toward holding "credible" elections by October of next year.


AFP - The Commonwealth suspended Fiji on Tuesday after its military ruler refused to meet demands to call elections by October next year.

"This is an announcement I make with deep regret -- it is a step the Commonwealth is now obliged to take, and one that it takes in sorrow," Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said in a statement.

The Commonwealth warned in July that Fiji, where the government was overthrown in a bloodless military coup in December 2006, would be suspended on September 1 if it failed to take steps to "credible" elections by October 2010.

Sharma said that although military leader Voreqe Bainimarama had written to him "reaffirming his commitment to the principles of the Commonwealth, his response did not meet the terms set out by CMAG (Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group) on 31 July."

He added: "I informed him of this in writing on 24 August. Accordingly, Fiji has today been fully suspended from the Commonwealth."

Bainimarama said on Tuesday that the South Pacific island nation would not budge from its so-called roadmap to elections in 2014, four years later than the deadline set by the Commonwealth.

"The Fiji government believes the roadmap is the only path to ensuring sustainable and true democracy, which includes... to have elections in 2014," Bainimarama told a Fijian commercial radio station.

Fiji has already been suspended from Commonwealth ministerial meetings.

Its full suspension means its representatives will be excluded from all inter-governmental Commonwealth meetings, and Fiji will be barred from the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The island will also receive no technical assistance from its fellow Commonwealth countries, unless it is linked to the establishment of democracy.

Fiji received a total of about 500,000 pounds (570,000 euros, 800,000 dollars) in direct technical aid from 2000 to 2006, but was also eligible for a share of a pan-Commonwealth pot of about 32 million pounds.

However, Fiji has left one route of negotiation open.

In a move welcomed by Sharma, it has agreed to meet the Commonwealth's special representative to the country, Paul Reeves, when he visits Fiji on September 9-11.

"I welcome the invitation from Commodore Bainimarama to meet my Special Representative in Fiji in September," Sharma said.

Fiji was suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum in May after Bainimarama broke an earlier promise to hold elections by March this year and the European Union has suspended aid to the military regime.

The Commonwealth is a grouping of 53 former British colonies, dependencies and other territories. It suspended Zimbabwe in 2002, but President Robert Mugabe then unilaterally withdrew. It has twice suspended Pakistan.

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