Fiji’s powerful tribal chiefs, who hold constitutional power to appoint the president and have large influence among Fijians, have refused to recognise the leaders of last week’s coup as the rulers of the country.
The refusal creates a stumbling block to the plans of Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the military chief who led the take-over.
Ratu Ovini Bokini, chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, said the council still considers one of its own members to be the South Pacific nation’s president.
He said that the council would meet next week with Laisenia Qarase, the ousted prime minister, to discuss the country’s future.
Following the December 5 coup Bainimarama announced he had assumed some presidential powers and dismissed the government.
He said he would appoint an interim government and restore democracy through elections.
The chiefs were set to be major beneficiaries under two contentious bills backed by Qarase that would have offered pardons to plotters in a previous coup in 2000, and redistributed lucrative coastal property to Fiji’s indigenous majority.
Several council chiefs were jailed and one sacked from his post for playing a hand in the 2000 coup.
Bokini said the chiefs would invite Qarase to attended a meeting on the future government, slated for next Wednesday or Thursday, but had not yet decided whether to invite Bainimarama.
On Friday, however, Qarase hinted that he was not optimistic he would return to power.
"There is still room for the military to pull back and let the elected government continue," he said. "But that seems to becoming more and more difficult now as time goes by."
"If the takeover is ultimately firmly established, that’s it. That is the situation in Fiji."
Earlier this week Bainimarama escalated the stand-off with the chiefs, when he said the military could rule in Fiji for another 50 years if the council failed to recognized his interim government.