FIJI PRIME MINISTER QARASE UNVEILS HIS NEW PARTY

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By Ruci Mafi

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 10, 2001 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Fiji Islands caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase yesterday formally launched a new political party, calling it the Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL). Its formation ends speculation over which party he will join.

Mr. Qarase, who is joined by at least 12 ministers in his Cabinet, said the party was formed after he received numerous requests to continue leadership.

"Our party's main political aim is to secure the greatest number of seats in the general elections to ensure the SDL forms the government of Fiji,'' he said.

Mr. Qarase said expressions of support for the party's establishment had come from all ethnic groups in the country. "There is particularly strong endorsement from Fijian provincial representatives,'' he said.

Mr. Qarase said the party would work to remove the barriers that separated Fijians and the Indians. "And to replace animosity and fear with trust and cooperation,'' he said.

"There is continuing division and leadership conflict.

"That is not helpful to Fiji.''

Mr. Qarase said it was the SDL's conviction that Fiji must learn from the mistakes of the past and discard the kind of politics that could lead the country to disaster.

He said Fiji had seen what "disunity among Fijians means in a racially polarized nation and how this can pose a danger to the state.''

Meanwhile, a party constitution will be adopted at its inauguration later this month.

The August elections will return Fiji to elected government after last year's coup crisis. In this the government of the country's first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, was taken hostage by indigenous Fijian rebels and ousted.

Mr. Qarase, a respected merchant banker, was brought in to head an interim administration after the Fiji Military Forces declared martial law to halt the growing unrest.

At the launch yesterday were Finance Minister Ratu Jone Kubuabola, Youth Minister Keni Dakuidreketi, Health Minister Pita Nacuva, Lands Minister Mitieli Bulanauca and Commerce Minister Tomasi Vuetilovoni.

It's understood a number of ministers have yet to decide whether they will join the party. But a number have declared they have no wish to go into politics.

Veitokani Lewenivanua Lotu Vakarisito President Ratu Josaia Raiyawa was with officials at the launch.

Mr. Qarase's party has obvious support from the chiefs of Lau and parts of Rewa and Naitasiri. But late last night Fijian political parties were quick to denounce Mr. Qarase's move.

Indigenous Fijian politicians said they believe the Fijian community faces further division.

However, Mr. Qarase is adamant that the party should not further divide Fijians but unite them. He will establish dialogue with other Fijian political parties on a possible coalition, he said.

This is despite moves mooted by the Fijian Political Forum to initiate unification talks.

While some Fijian parties rubbished Mr. Qarase’s intentions, others say they will not commit themselves unless they know what is offered.

National Federation Party General-Secretary Attar Singh said with changes and Fijian political parties formed every day, he hoped there "will be a party that will genuinely represent the interests of the Fijian people''.

Nationalist Vanua Tako Lavo Party leader Lasarusa Sovea said unity among Fijians would have been easier if Mr. Qarase and his team joined the Forum.

"If Mr. Qarase is serious about Fijian unity, then he should bring his new party into the Fijian Political Forum,'' he said.

"Now Fijians will be more divided than ever.''

Fijian Association Party leader Adi Kuini Speed said the party did not offer anything new. "It represents everything which has been wrong with our past: greed, corruption, racism and lawlessness.''

Adi Kuini said she was confident people would not be misled by Mr. Qarase.

"Mr. Qarase's party is a party for people who take advantage of the indigenous people for purely selfish reasons.''

Adi Kuini said the Fijian Association Party was glad it was not associated with people who put themselves before their community.

Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua spokesperson Ratu Josefa Dimuri said the party would not commit itself to anything yet. "However, we are open to discuss possibilities of uniting with other political parties,'' he said.

The Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei said it will comment today on the new party.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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