Vote counting ends in Fiji election with no clear winner

WELLINGTON: Vote counting was completed in Fiji’s general election on Sunday, but there was no clear winner and various political parties are currently negotiating to form a coalition government.
The election pitted two former putschists against each other.
Sitiveni Rabuka, who led a coup in 1987 and later served as prime minister-elect in the 1990s, has emerged as the main challenger to Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who has been in power for 16 years.
Rabuka’s People’s Alliance Party and its allies, the National Federation Party, won around 45% of the combined vote. Fiji’s first party of Bainimarama, meanwhile, won around 43 percent.
This left the two parties seeking to form a coalition with the Liberal Social Democratic Party.
Liberal Party Secretary General Lenaitasi Duru told the media that they had meetings with both sides.
“The first round of negotiations took place yesterday,” Duru said. “We expect further negotiations later this afternoon.”
He said the party’s priorities include Indigenous affairs and education.
“Right now we’re sitting in the middle,” Duru said. “We watch and wait for what’s on offer and then we’ll make the decision based on what’s best for the nation.”
Earlier on Friday, Rabuka’s party and four others said they were launching a nationwide petition because they had no confidence in the integrity of election officials.
But an international group that monitored the election said Friday it had observed no voting irregularities and the process was transparent and credible.
The dispute had threatened to destabilize the Pacific nation’s fragile democracy, which has been marred by four military coups in the past 35 years.
Rebekha Sharkie, an Australian lawmaker and co-chair of the 90-person Multinational Observer Group, told reporters in Fiji that they had unrestricted access to the electoral process and had not observed any irregularities. She said the group had assessed that Fijians could vote freely.
Rabuka’s concerns came after his party topped preliminary results published online after polls closed, but the results app then stopped working.
Election officials said they found an anomaly in the system and needed to reload the results. When the next set of results were released, Bainimarama’s party was in the lead.
Election officials later halted their provisional tally and moved on to a final tally.
Bainimarama first seized the top job by force in 2006, then reshaped himself as a Democratic leader by introducing a new constitution and winning elections in 2014 and again in 2018.
Fiji is known abroad as a tourist paradise dotted with pristine beaches and filled with friendly, relaxed people.
However, the past few years have proven difficult for many people in this country of just under a million people, after tourism evaporated when COVID-19 hit and the economy s collapsed. The World Bank estimates that the country’s poverty rate is around 24%.


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