APIA (23 Feb 2009) – Fiji’s troubled leader has been branded a thief by one of the Pacific island’s nearest neighbours as tension mounts over the army chief’s failure to order democratic elections. Tuilaepa Sailele, Prime Minister of Samoa, has launched an unprecedented attack on his Fijian counterpart, Frank Bainimarama, claiming the military man has no plans to relinquish the leadership. “I strongly believe that Bainimarama has no intention of relinquishing power and returning Fiji to democratic government,” Tuilaepa told the New Zealand Fairfax newspapers on Tuesday.
“Therefore, that’s a clear indication that Bainimarama has no intention whatsoever of holding general elections and returning his country to democratic rule.”
He also said the commodore was stealing public money by appointing himself as finance minister and paying himself F$200,000 (NZ$212,619) in unclaimed leave.
The Samoan leader mocked Bainimarama’s ridiculous full military garb and the need for an army, saying “perhaps Bainimarama fears a combined canoe attack from Tuvalu and Kiribati,” its closest neighbours.
He also told Fijians to wake up.
“Stand up and reclaim your government. It is your God-given right,” Tuilaepa said.
The strong criticism comes as the May 1 deadline for announcing a 2009 election draws nearer.
Fiji will be removed from the Pacific Islands Forum if it fails to fulfil the ultimatum, set by the group’s 16-nation members at a meeting in Papua New Guinea last month.
Bainimarama has claimed that the islands were coerced into agreeing to the hard line approach by Australia and New Zealand, but several small pacific island leaders have hit back, saying it was a consensus decision.
The army chief has refused to say whether he will call an election this year but his intention to change the electoral system, a drawn out process which involves changes to Fiji’s constitution, makes a 2009 vote unlikely.