'We're Ready To Form New Government,' Says Qarase
By KRISTY TYRELL, LANIETA TAGIMOUCIA and Staff Reporters: September 6, 2001 Wansolwara Online (USP)
SUVA (Pasifik Nius): With five more seats left to be decided in the Fiji general election, caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase today declared he was ready to form a new government.
His Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) and the Fiji Labour Party were both tied on 27 seats, but with the possible backing of the Fijian nationalist Conservative Alliance Matanitu Lesavua and its six seats, Qarase was confident he could form the government.
"The numbers are coming our way," he told a media conference. "At the end of the count we could end up with 32 seats.
"We will be short of an absolute majority and it will be necessary to form a coalition.
"We're ready to form the next government."
Thirty six seats are needed for a majority in the 71-seat House of Representatives, but one seat will be decided later in a byelection because of the death of a candidate before the election began.
Qarase said he was talking to other Fijian parties about a coalition.
Asked why he was not talking to multiracial Labour's leader Mahendra Chaudhry, deposed as prime minister at gunpoint in May last year, he said: "He would make a very good Opposition Leader."
Labour remained tight-lipped about its options with its newly elected MPs meeting most of the day to discuss options in the wake of the surprise defeats of former ministers Lavenia Padarath and John Ali.
Although most Labour newly elected MPs are Indo-Fijian, at least two are Fijian, and most of the candidates in the open seats were Fijian.
Defeated Party of National Unity leader Ponipate Lesavua said he had "high hopes" for Labour to form the next government with the SDL.
Speaking on Bula 100FM, he added that the CAMV and SDL should "change their attitudes". They needed to be careful about making racist comments because Fiji still relied on overseas aid.
He blamed the SDL's popularity on their handouts in the form of farming equipment given out to potential voters, which had "poisoned and brainwashed " the electorate.
Lesavua said the CAMV and the SDL should not form the next government together as they would make a "dangerous combination".
Among the minor parties, United General Party, National Federation Party and New Labour Unity Party have one seat each, with independents holding two seats — Marieta Rigamoto of Rotuma and Savenaca Draunidalo.
CAMV leader Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure said he supported having a Fijian prime minister.
If the SDL wanted to work with them then they must take heed of their demands and the same went to FLP, he said.
Demands reportedly included appointing as one of two deputy prime ministers coup leader George Speight, who is detained facing treason charges.
But Qarase told reporters: "Due process of law must take its course — I will not change my position on this."
Qarase said he was still unwilling to work with Chaudhry
However, the SDL was obliged to invite other parties to form a government under the 1997 Constitution, he said.
Chaudhry had said that if Labour won, he would invite all parties having more than eight seats to form the next government as this was required under the constitution.
Lesavua said: "Qarase should work with Chaudhry because it is constitutional — he should think of all races."
He said Fijians had had political control for 30 years and nothing had been done for rural people.
"And if another Fijian government is to come to power now, nothing much will change."