Fiji's military ruler announced on Tuesday that he will call elections in 2010 to restore parliamentary rule in the coup-prone South Pacific country.
Armed forces chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who installed himself as prime minister after ousting the elected government on December 5, issued a statement setting out a timetable for the country to return to democratic rule.
"Under this roadmap Fiji will be ready for a general election and a full restoration of parliamentary democracy in 2010," Bainimarama said.
The plan takes into account the need to restore Fiji's poorly performing economy and stabilise government finances, and reflects the military's "aspiration" to remove corruption from government, Bainimarama said.
Bainimarama installed what he said was an interim government after the military seized power from Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase in a bloodless coup.
Bainimarama said he was compelled to act against the government because corruption had flourished under Qarase, and because of proposed laws that would grant pardons to plotters in a 2000 coup and hand lucrative land rights to indigenous Fijians at the expense of the large ethnic Indian minority.
Bainimarama has said he plans to restore democracy through elections, but has not previously set a timeframe.
The announcement came a day after a Pacific Islands' Forum report called for elections in 18 months to two years to restore democracy.
In the report to the region's 16-member forum, an "eminent persons group" of four respected regional figures described the December 5 military coup as "unconstitutional and unacceptable," called for Bainimarama to step down as prime minister and for Fiji's troops to return to their barracks.
Bainimarama ignored the report Tuesday, instead setting out a "roadmap" for reforming the nation's election system over the three years ahead of the 2010 election.
The steps included holding a national census this year to provide accurate information to redraw the nation's electoral boundaries to reflect population changes since the last census in 1996.
There was significant migration from Fiji by its ethnic Indian minority following a coup by Fijian nationalists in May 2000 — the third putsch since 1987.
Fiji has now had four coups. Bainimarama said the new electoral system will ensure that all votes cast are equal, and will abolish the "race-based" election system which requires that indigenous Fijians vote for Fijian candidates, ethnic Indians for Indian candidates and "others" for a third group of candidates.
"In particular, we want to rid the Constitution of provisions that facilitate and exacerbate the politics of race," Bainimarama said.
"After three years the country's economy and government finances will have recovered fully to be able to fund .... a general election in Fiji," he said.