Fiji's military ruler, Commodore Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama [BBC profile] announced [text] Sunday that the nation's state of emergency laws will be lifted this week to facilitate a nationwide consultation process for a new constitution. The announcement was cautiously welcomed by longtime regional critics [Sydney Morning Herald report], Australia and New Zealand. Local opposition politicians and critics often victims of harsh censorship regulations have not yet commented [AFP report]. Skepticism remains about military involvement [VOA report] in the election process Bainimarama promised to hold in 2014. Although the Commodore did not indicate what laws would replace the emergency laws enforced through Public Emergency Regulations (PER) [text, PDF], he warned "public order, protecting the vulnerable and safeguarding the economy will always be paramount." Bainimarama also indicated:
There are certain features of the new constitution that will be non-negotiable. The constitution must establish a government that is founded on an electoral system that guarantees equal suffrage - a truly democratic system based on the principle of one person, one vote, one value; We will not have a system that will classify Fijians based on ethnicity; and, Our young men and women, those 18 years old must have the right to vote.It remains unclear what effect, if any, lifting the PER which requires official approval for meetings of more than three people will have on the military government's Media Decree [The Australian report; text, PDF].
Fiji's military government has faced increasing international criticism since Bainimarama came to power in a bloodless coup in 2006 [JURIST report]. In October 2010, Mahendra Chaudry, a former prime minister who lost power in a coup in 2000, and the current opposition leader, were arrested by military authorities [JURIST report] for allegedly holding public meetings in violation of the PER. In April 2010, international rights organizations voiced concern about the Media Decree [JURIST report] the Fijian government later approved, which provides for significant fines, up to five years' imprisonment of journalists, and requires registration and local ownership of mass media entities. In September 2009, the Commonwealth of Nations suspended Fiji [JURIST report] from its organization because it failed to meet the deadline for reinstating a constitutional democracy and opening a national dialogue. In July 2009, Bainimarama announced plans to establish a new constitution by September 2013 [JURIST report] prior to the elections planned for September 2014. In May 2009, the Pacific Islands Forum suspended Fiji's membership [JURIST report] in the 16-nation bloc after Fiji's current military government failed to meet a deadline to schedule elections.