Fiji goes to the polls with two coup leaders in face-off

A queue to vote in the general election in Suva yesterday, although heavy rain dampened the turnout in the Fijian nation.
A queue to vote in the general election in Suva yesterday, although heavy rain dampened the turnout in the Fijian nation.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SUVA • Fiji's second election since a 2006 military takeover - pitting one coup leader against another - passed off peacefully yesterday, although heavy rain dampened voter turnout in the Pacific island nation.

The ballot saw Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, the former military chief who led a bloodless takeover of the government 12 years ago, face off against another coup leader, Mr Sitiveni Rabuka of the Sodelpa Party.

Mr Bainimarama's FijiFirst Party went into the polls as heavy favourites, polling 68 per cent, but early results indicated the contest was tighter than predicted. FijiFirst had 50.37 per cent of the vote with 387 of 2,170 polling stations counted, ahead of Sodelpa on 40.19 per cent.

An election winner is unlikely to be known for four or five days as votes trickle in from polling stations on the archipelago's more remote islands.

Mr Bainimarama, 64, who won with almost 60 per cent of the vote at the 2014 election, has promised stability and an end to the "coup culture" that saw four governments toppled between 1987 and 2006.

Mr Rabuka, who staged two coups in 1987 and led the country from 1992-99, was cleared to run in the election only on Monday after defeating corruption charges that government critics said were politically motivated.

Torrential rain forced the closure of 23 polling stations and affected turnout among the 550,000 registered voters in the nation of 920,000. "With numbers still coming in, it looks like we may be facing low voter turnout," Elections Supervisor Mohammed Saneem said as he declared polling had ended.

"The weather was persistent in terms of rain all day and we had to close a few of the polling venues due to accessibility issues."

Given the backgrounds of both major candidates, there have inevitably been rumours that one of them could try to stage a coup if the vote does not go his way. However, police commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho said in the lead-up to the election that 2,000 officers were on duty to ensure there was no unrest.

"I want to reiterate again to all Fijians, forget the rumours," he told reporters. "We are in control of the security situation here, go out and vote for the government you want. We will provide you with the security you need."

Speaking on the streets of the capital, voter Ravai Vafoou said there was no appetite for another coup among the general public. "Whether the party you voted for wins or not, the general notion is that as Fijians, we will support whichever party forms the government."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2018, with the headline 'Fiji goes to the polls with two coup leaders in face-off'. Print Edition | Subscribe