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Fiji's Interim Prime Minister Sworn In - 2001-09-10


Fiji's interim prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, has been sworn into office Monday after his Fijian People's Party (SDL) won elections aimed at restoring democracy following a nationalist coup last year. But political stability has been thrown into doubt after the ousted prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, announced his Labor Party will join the new government even though it hasn't been invited.

Laisenia Qarase was sworn into office in a brief ceremony carried out by Fiji's President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. Mr. Qarase said that he would not let his country down. "I feel privileged and honored to be appointed prime minister. I feel humbled by the tremendous support that has been shown to my party, in particular," he said. "Fiji should have a fairly stable government during the next five years and beyond," Qarase said.

The two main parties Labor and the SDL have very different policies. Mr. Qarase campaigned on a platform of boosting indigenous rights at the expense of the ethnic Indian minority. The Labor Party is dominated by Indo-Fijians.

The leader of Fiji's Labor Party, Mahendra Chaudhry, said that he would join the government headed by his bitter political rival, the new nationalist Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. Fiji's Constitution states any party with more than 10 percent of the seats in the new Parliament is entitled to cabinet positions.

Fiji's Constitution was designed to promote consensus government to ensure parties with eight or more seats in Parliament had a place in cabinet. It was meant to foster a spirit of cooperation. The new administration will, however, be divided like no other in Fiji's political history.

Prime Minister Qarase faces the prospect of his Fijian People's Party, the SDL, having a minority voice in his own cabinet. The Constitution allows Mr. Chaudhry's Labor party to take up 46 percent of ministerial positions. Mr. Qarase has had to give up some of his allocation to a small group of moderates in return for their support, which allowed him to become prime minister.

Mr. Chaudhry, who was deposed by an armed coup last year, says he intends to form an opposition within government. He is insisting his move will not further destabilize a country still trying to recover from the chaos left in the aftermath of the uprising.

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