Fiji defends military's election role

Fiji on Wednesday defended the army's role in preparations for the Pacific nation's first elections since a 2006 military coup, saying there was no other way to lay the groundwork for the vote in 2014.

Opposition politicians have raised concerns about the military's involvement in efforts to enrol voters, arguing it threatens the credibility of the electoral process.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said that with 1,100 voter registration centres planned across 110 islands, using the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) was unavoidable.

"Any logical person would know that this is a purely logistical exercise, there is no other way to get the job done," he told news website Fijivillage.com.

"By having the RFMF it does not mean that somehow or other you are obfuscating the system."

Fiji has experienced four coups since 1987 and faces close international scrutiny as it launches a programme to draft a new constitution ahead of the 2014 vote.

Former prime minister Laisenia Qarase, who was ousted in 2006, has called for all preparations to be handled by an independent body, while Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry said it was "absurd" to involve the military.

"The registration process as structured does not have the confidence of the people," said Chaudhry, another ex-prime minister, who lost power in a coup in 2000.

Military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama seized power in the 2006 coup, pledging to root out corruption and introduce a one-person, one-vote system intended to end entrenched racial inequalities in the nation of 840,000.

However, he reneged on a promise to hold elections in 2009, leading to Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum.

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