Berliner Tageblatt - Tense Fiji election tied with all votes counted

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Tense Fiji election tied with all votes counted
Tense Fiji election tied with all votes counted / Photo: © AFP

Tense Fiji election tied with all votes counted

Final results showed Fiji's tumultuous general election deadlocked Sunday, with two rival ex-coup leaders failing to win a clear majority of seats in parliament.

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Incumbent Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama's Fiji First party and a coalition led by Sitiveni Rabuka were both projected to secure 26 seats in the 55-seat legislature, according to a Fijian Election Office tally posted online.

The prime minister and the next government will now likely be determined through party horsetrading and what could be a drawn-out negotiation process.

The election holds significance beyond Fiji -- Bainimarama, 68, has been close with Beijing, while Rabuka, 74, has signalled his desire to loosen Fiji's ties to China.

Fiji has been upended by four coups in the past 35 years, and many on the streets of its capital, Suva, had hoped in vain for a smooth election.

The cliffhanger result caps a fractious campaign marked by allegations of fraud and calls for the military to intervene.

After polls closed Wednesday, opposition leader and former rugby international Rabuka claimed "anomalies" in the count and asked the country's powerful military to step in.

He was then hauled in for questioning by detectives. On his release, he told AFP it was part of a government effort to intimidate him.

"The way this government has operated, we've been talking about a climate of fear. This is how they instil that fear," he said.

The two frontrunners are already courting the small Social Democratic party, which holds three seats and the balance of power.

It is led by deeply Christian businessman Viliame Gavoka, who was arrested in 2010 for sending tourism operators emails about a Fijian pastor falsely prophesying an impending tsunami.

Land rights for Indigenous Fijians and free tertiary education are some of the Social Democratic party's key policies.

A Social Democratic official said the party was locked in discussions with Bainimarama's Fiji First party when AFP visited the campaign headquarters on Sunday morning.

Rabuka's People's Alliance kicked off negotiations late Saturday night -- a major sticking point being whether Rabuka would serve as prime minister.

Gavoka has fallen out with Bainimarama in the past, but has a particularly tense relationship with Rabuka, who he replaced as leader of the Social Democrats.

- 'Rambo' and the commander -

Fiji's polls ran into trouble early Thursday morning when what the election officials called a technical "anomaly" knocked results offline for four hours.

By Friday, six opposition leaders including Gavoka were calling for counting to be stopped pending an independent "forensic audit".

Rabuka, a two-time coup leader and former Commonwealth Games shot putter nicknamed "Rambo", was then called in for police questioning late Friday night.

Military commander Jone Kalouniwai rebuffed Rabuka's plea.

Election supervisor Mohammed Saneem has hit back at claims of fraud: "This is serious ladies and gentlemen. Step up with the evidence."

Ex-navy commodore Bainimarama legitimised his government through election wins in 2014 and 2018 -- but his majority has shrunk each time.

With just under 43 percent of the vote this time round, his tally has again dropped. Rabuka's coalition won almost 45 percent of the vote.

Fiji spans more than 300 tropical islands but has a population of just shy of one million people.

Still, it is one of the South Pacific's major players and a powerful voice in the global debate on climate change.

Already threatened by rising sea levels, Fiji was the first country to ratify the Paris climate agreement in 2016.

E.Schubert--BTB