Four Asia-Pacific nations to lead Fiji election oversight

August 14, 2014 - 8:47:44 am

SUVA: Fiji has agreed to four Asia-Pacific nations -- Australia, India, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea -- co-leading a monitoring group for the island nation's first elections since a 2006 coup, officials said Thursday.

The first observers will arrive in Fiji in the coming days following the signing of an agreement this week, acting Australian High Commissioner Glen Miles said.

"An important element of any election process is to have an observers' mission participate -- it gives everyone the confidence to participate," he said after a signing ceremony in central Suva, the capital.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said former cabinet minister Peter Reith would lead the Australian mission.

The election scheduled for September 17 represents the first opportunity for Fijians to vote since strongman Voreqe Bainimarama seized power in a military coup eight years ago.

The international community has long called for free and fair elections in the country and Bishop said the observer group's job was to assess whether the outcome of the ballot broadly represented the will of Fijian voters.

"The multinational observer group will have freedom of movement throughout Fiji and will communicate with the Fijian government, political parties and other social and political organisations in Fiji," she said.

Fiji has had four coups since 1987 stemming from tensions between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians descended from sugar plantation labourers shipped in by the British during the colonial era.

Bainimarama took power vowing to root out corruption and introduce a one-person, one-vote system that would end racial inequalities in the nation of almost 900,000.

His authoritarian regime did bring stability, but in the process it tore up the constitution, sacked the judiciary and tightened media censorship.

Restrictions have been relaxed in recent years but Amnesty International released a report last week saying Bainimarama was still presiding over a "climate of fear".

Opinion polls in Fiji show 60 percent support for Bainimarama to be the legally elected prime minister, although he has pledged to accept the result of the election even if it does not go his way. (AFP)