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Fiji seeks India’s help to hold polls

Fiji, suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth after the army-led coup, installed an interim government in the South Pacific island this year, writes Nilova Roy Chaudhury.
Hindustan Times | By Nilova Roy Chaudhury, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 17, 2007 03:32 AM IST

Fiji, suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth after the army-led coup installed an interim government in the South Pacific island earlier this year, is seeking Indian assistance to hold credible polls there.

The military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, defied international pressure in January to be sworn in as prime minister, tightening his grip on power after Fiji’s fourth coup in 20 years.

“We want to have credible polls there,” said Mahendra Pal Chaudhry, Fiji’s Finance Minister, who is on a week-long visit to India. “We want to discover the reasons for this coup culture, restore the shattered economy and return to democratic rule as soon as possible,” said Chaudhry, who met Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami on Tuesday to ask for electronic voting machines for his country.

“We did not have a culture of rigged elections in Fiji,” said Chaudhry, speaking to a select group of journalists, “before (Laisenia) Qarase,” the former Prime Minister who rigged elections last December to ensure his government returned to power.

According to Chaudhry, an audit report has been published which talks of even the 2001 elections, which Qarase won, being rigged. The report said two million ballot papers were printed for an electorate comprising 421,000 people.

“The aim was to disenfranchise a large section of the voters,” Chaudhry said, primarily Fijians of Indian origin, to which community Chaudhry belongs.

According to Chaudhry, the interim government will require three years to be able to register voters, correct electoral rolls, and effect course correction for the economy before holding credible elections. The international community, led by the United States, Australia and New Zealand, want elections in 18 to 24 months.

Chaudhry was bitter about what he called "double standards" of the international community and the Commonwealth, which has suspended and sanctioned Fiji, but supports Bangladesh, where an army-backed interim administration is in power.

The former Prime Minister also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P Chidambaram to seek India’s financial help to revive the Fijian economy, particularly its infrastructure and rural development.

India has offered a $ 54 million credit line to Fiji to restructure its sugar industry.

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