CANBERRA, Australia — Fiji’s military ruler says the prime minister he ousted in a coup three years ago would be returned to power if democratic elections were held tomorrow in the South Pacific island nation.
He said he wanted to first create a new constitution that gave every Fijian an equal vote to replace the system scrapped by the military coup that guaranteed indigenous Fijian candidates a parliamentary majority.
Bainimarama said if an election were held tomorrow under the current electoral system, “he would win it,” referring to deposed prime minister Laisenia Qarase.
“We’re trying to change the mindset of the people from racial issues that developed in the last 10 years to what we want to take Fiji to – equal suffrage,” Bainimarama said in an interview on “Dateline.”
Bainimarama, also an indigenous Fijian, argues that the previous constitution discriminated against Fiji’s large ethnic Indian minority.
He has imposed martial law in Fiji and installed censors in newsrooms to prevent “destabilizing” reports from being published or broadcast.
Bainimarama said “Dateline’s” reporter was not allowed to interview Qarase, who is banned from leaving Fiji, “because he doesn’t make sense.”
He said, “I want Qarase and his politics to be irrelevant – I want him out.”
The military ruler said emergency regulations prevented his predecessor from speaking out against the new regime.
“He can’t go out in the street and say – stand up on the street and walk or march and (say) ‘get rid of this government’ – he can’t do that,” Bainimarama said.
Neither Bainimarama nor Qarase was immediately available for comment on Sunday.