Fiji President Scraps Constitution, Assumes Control
By Phil Mercer
10 April 2009

There is more political turmoil in Fiji after President Ratu Josefa Iloilo annulled the constitution, fired the judiciary and assumed all governing power in the South Pacific nation.

Ratu Josefa Iloilo (2008 File)

The elderly leader's motives are, however, unclear. He has been a staunch supporter of Fiji's army chief, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who deposed an elected government two-and-a-half years ago and has ignored international demands to restore democracy.

The coup was the country's fourth in 20 years.

Court rules military government illegal

On Thursday, the Fiji Court of Appeal ruled the military government was illegal. The ruling prompted Commodore Bainimarama to make a national televised address in which he announced he would step down from his position as interim prime minister and urged the people to remain calm.

"I want to assure you all that I, as commander of the RFMS [Republic of Fiji Military Forces] together with all the security forces shall ensure that there will be no disruption to law and order," Bainimarama said. "I also want to caution any person who is thinking of interrupting the peace and good governance of our Fiji that no such behavior shall be tolerated."

Military chief unlikely to leave quietly

Commodore Bainimarama is unlikely to move quietly to the sidelines. He seized power in 2006 in a bloodless coup, claiming that the government was corrupt and pursuing racist policies against the country's ethnic Indian minority. His refusal to set a timetable for elections has upset Fiji's South Pacific neighbors, including Australia and New Zealand, which have imposed limited sanctions.

Bainimarama's critics have accused him of being a power-hungry dictator.

President to appoint interim government

President Iloilo said he would appoint a new interim government soon, which would serve until elections in September 2014.

The army's grip on Fiji has left the island nation isolated internationally. Its economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism and sugar cane exports, has suffered, sending more of the population of 800,000 into poverty.