Racially divided Fiji to hold elections in May
The leader of Fiji has called a general election for May, testing racial divisions which have fuelled three coups and a military mutiny since 1987.india Updated: Mar 01, 2006 13:34 IST
The leader of the South Pacific nation of Fiji has called for general elections in May, thus testing racial divisions which have fuelled three coups and a military mutiny since 1987.
Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase announced the election on Wednesday, having previously vowed to stay in power until his five-year term ends in September.
"My party is ready for the general elections," Qarase said in the capital, Suva. He added that the Parliament would be dissolved on March 27 and elections held between May 6 and 13.
Voting in the South Pacific archipelago usually takes at least a week, given the logistical problems involved in collecting ballots from far-flung islands and villages. Fiji has 320 islands covering 18,376 sq kmof ocean.
Qarase was elected prime minister in 2001 after being initially installed as caretaker leader in 2000 when martial law was imposed following a nationalist-led coup.
Racial tensions have sparked three coups in Fiji since 1987, with indigenous Fijians resenting the economic, and at times political, strength of ethnic Indians whose ancestors were brought to Fiji to work on British sugar cane farms.
Qarase's main challenge in the 2006 election is expected to come from Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry, an ethnic Indian overthrown as prime minister in the 2000 coup.
Chaudhry said his Indo-Fijian party was also ready for the early poll, but questioned the accuracy of new electoral rolls.
"We have been complaining about the registration of voters since last year," said Chaudhry. "There are hundreds of voters assigned to wrong constituencies."
Fiji's 71 electorates are race-based, with 23 seats allocated to indigenous Fijians, 19 seats to Indo-Fijians and 25 open seats, which often heavily favour indigenous Fijians. Four seats are reserved for minor ethnic groups.