SUVA, FIJI (AFP) - Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama appeared set for a comfortable election victory on Thursday (Nov 15) after only the second vote in the South Pacific island nation since a military takeover in 2006.
Preliminary results with almost three-quarters of votes counted gave Bainimarama's FijiFirst Party an outright majority of 51.63 per cent, well ahead of nearest rival the SODELPA Party on 38.05 per cent.
An election winner may not be known for several days as votes trickle in from polling stations on the archipelago's more remote islands.
Election officials also have to arrange alternative voting arrangements for constituents affected when torrential rain on Wednesday forced the closure of 23 polling stations.
Bainimarama, 64, led the bloodless coup 12 years ago but now declares himself a convert to democracy, vowing to end the instability that saw four governments toppled between 1987 and 2006.
The island nation of 920,000 people has enjoyed sustained growth in its tourism-reliant economy under his watch.
He has also made Fiji's foreign policy less reliant on Australia and New Zealand, which both tried to isolate his regime when he seized power, allowing China an increased role in aid and development.
Supporters say he has helped heal racial divisions by introducing equal rights for Indian-Fijians, a sizable minority brought in to work on sugar plantations during British colonial rule.
But critics, including Amnesty International, say some democratic fundamentals such as media freedom and the right to assembly remain inadequate under Bainimarama, who is notoriously sensitive to criticism.