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Fiji lifts emergency ahead of talks on new constitution

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:44 PM EST, Sat January 7, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The military government says it will begin talks on a new constitution
  • The state of emergency was imposed in 2009
  • Critics say Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has impeded democracy
  • Bainimarama said elections will be held in 2014

(CNN) -- Fiji's military government lifted a three-year state of emergency Saturday ahead of talks on drafting a new constitution and eventual elections.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 military coup, had announced the repeal of emergency regulations in a New Year's message.

Bainimarama, also Fiji's military chief, overturned the constitution in 2009 and maintained martial law. He said the process of drafting a new constitution would begin in February and promised elections in 2014.

"The constitution must establish a government that is founded on an electoral system that guarantees equal suffrage -- a truly democratic system based on the principle of one person, one vote, one value," he said in his message, posted on a government website.

For years, Bainimarama has promised to reform the country's electoral system and eradicate "endemic corruption." But many one-time allies have criticized him for not moving fast enough and not allowing a democracy to flourish.

"Since taking power Bainimarama has neutralized his opponents, crippled Fiji's democratic institutions, and refused to hold elections," says the CIA World Factbook.

The Commonwealth -- a voluntary, cooperative alliance of 54 nations that were once part of the British Empire and formerly known as the British Commonwealth -- suspended Fiji from its ranks about two years ago after the military government failed to respond to a demand to restore democracy.

That meant Fiji would no longer receive aid from the Commonwealth.

Fiji was expelled from the Pacific Forum in 2009 after failing to meet a similar deadline set by that multinational bloc.

That decision came a month after a court ruling that declared Fiji's military government illegal and ordered that a caretaker government be instituted. But that didn't happen, as Bainimarama was sworn in again as prime minister, the country's constitution was annulled and all judges were fired.

Fiji suffers from deep ethnic divisions between the indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians who are descendents of laborers brought by the British from India. At one time, the two groups were roughly equal in size but many Indians emigrated during a recent period uncertainty.

In making his announcement about elections, Bainimarama said Fiji's new system should not "classify Fijians based on ethnicity," saying all men and women 18 years and older "must have the right to vote."

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