Fiji's military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama said Monday that he will lift a two-year state of emergency next Saturday and begin a process of drafting a new constitution leading to new elections in 2014.
In his New Year's message, Mr. Bainimarama stressed that public order would be maintained and that he would soon announce nationwide consultations for a new constitution to establish a democratically-elected government.
“I will in the next few weeks announce the nationwide consultation process, which will commence in February 2012.”
Mr. Bainimarama gave no details of what will replace martial law, but rather, he described the values on which the constitution should be based.
“The constitution must establish a new government that is founded on a new electoral system that guarantees equal suffrage. A truly democratic system based on the principal on one person, one vote, one value.”
When he seized power in a bloodless coup in December 2006, Mr. Bainimarama said Fiji's ruling political classes were corrupt, and that the existing voting system was racially based to give indigenous Fijians greater voting power than the ethnic Indians who make up about 35 percent of the nation's 900,000 people.
“We will not have a system that will classify Fijians on ethnicity, and our young men and women – those 18 years old – must have the right to vote.”
Draconian regulations, including tight censorship on the news media and a ban on public meetings, were imposed after a Fiji court ruled that Commodore Bainimarama's military coup was illegal.
Mr. Bainimarama has broken earlier pledges to return to democracy, but says he will hold elections in 2014.
Jon Fraenkel at the Australian National University told VOA he remains hopeful democracy can return to Fiji but remains skeptical the military will stay out of the election process.
“Well, we'll have to wait and see. There were previous times since the 2006 coup where they lifted the public emergency regulations. And the minute there was any signs of dissent, they slapped them straight back on.”
Relations between Fiji and many countries have deteriorated since Mr. Bainimarama seized power, and he has remained under heavy pressure to return Fiji to democracy.
Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions and financial penalties imposed on the government.
Fiji also remains suspended from the 53-member, British-led group of former British colonies known as the Commonwealth.