Fiji ruler looks set to win poll, but opponents spotlight fraud

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 19, 2014 3:23 AM

By Matt Siegel

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Fiji's strongman ruler looked set on Friday to sail to victory in the South Pacific island nation's first elections after eight years of military rule, a contest praised by regional leaders and observers, but clouded by opposition accusations of fraud.

Fiji, a tropical idyll about 3,200 km (2,000 miles) east of Australia, has suffered four coups since 1987, the latest in 2006 led by former army chief Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama, whose Fiji First Party had a strong lead heading into Wednesday's election.

Fiji First got more than 60 percent of the vote in provisional results from the Electoral Commission on Thursday, but the final outcome will not be known for several days.

The provisional result was welcomed by regional powerhouse Australia, which is eager to have Fiji back in the fold after almost a decade of poor relations following the coup.

"Based on provisional results, the Fiji First Party is on track to win a majority of seats in Fiji’s Parliament," Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement.

"Australia looks forward to working with the new Fiji Government when it is formed."

A 92-member international observer group broadly praised the conduct of the election on Thursday.

"While counting is ongoing and the results are yet to be finalised, we assess that the outcome is on track to broadly represent the will of the Fijian voters," the Multinational Observer Group said in a statement.

But several of the opposition parties contesting the election have raised concerns about tampering with ballot boxes and voter registration rolls.

"The incidents are widespread and the reason that we are only coming out now is because it's only now that the information is trickling in from around the country," Mick Beddoes, a leader of the SODELPA Party, told Radio New Zealand.

Bainimarama seized on a long-simmering rivalry between indigenous Fijian nationalists and minority ethnic Indians, the economically powerful descendants of laborers brought by the British to work sugarcane fields, to justify his coup in 2006.

In 2000, ethnic Fijians held the first Indo-Fijian prime minister hostage in Parliament for 56 days, in a coup that began with deadly riots in the streets of the capital, Suva.

(Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)