Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Fiji suspended from Commonwealth

The Commonwealth has fully suspended Fiji from the association after it refused to bow to requests for elections by next year. The Commonwealth said it had demanded that Fiji commit, to rejoining negotiations with the opposition and to holding credible elections by October 2010. The deadline for declaring elections ended today, on 1-Sep-2009. Earlier, we had reported on 27-Aug regarding possible suspension.

This is only the second 'full suspension' in the organisation's history. The only other country to be fully suspended in the Commonwealth's history is Nigeria, during the rule of Gen Sani Abacha in 1995. The Commonwealth is a grouping of 53 former British colonies, dependencies and other territories.

Fiji's acting Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama who seized power in Fiji in a 2006 coup has said elections can only be reinstated in 2014. He says he needs time to institute reforms that will end the ethnic-based voting system tipped in favour of ethnic Fijians. But his critics charge that under his rule, Fiji has suspended the constitution, detained opponents and suppressed freedom of speech.

Fiji has already been banned from Commonwealth ministerial meetings. With its full suspension, all Commonwealth aid will be cut off and Fiji will not be allowed to participate in the 2010 Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi, India. However, not all Commonwealth contact with Fiji will cease. Its special representative to the country, Sir Paul Reeves, is set to visit Fiji from 9-11 September. Fiji has already been suspended from the regional Pacific Islands Forum, and some European Union aid to the country has been put on hold.
Fiji has had a chequered relationship with the Commonwealth. It was expelled in 1987 after two military coups, but was readmitted 10 years later when democracy was restored. It was also suspended in 2000 for 18 months.

Pakistan was twice suspended from council meetings, and Zimbabwe was on course to be suspended when President Robert Mugabe pre-empted the move by walking out himself.

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