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Fiji - Politics

Fiji went to polls on Wednesday 15 November 2018, only the second time the country has held democratic elections since former military strongman Bainimarama led a bloodless coup in 2006. Heavy rain caused some parts of the nation to delay voting until Saturday.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will stay in power for a second consecutive term as he has narrowly won a general election that was delayed by intense storms. Bainimarama's FijiFirst party won 50.2 percent of the vote to claim 27 of the 51 seats in the Pacific island nation's parliament for the next four years, according to the electoral commission."I'm proud to become your prime minister once again," Bainimarama told FBC News from Auckland, New Zealand, where he had been attending his brother's funeral.

The opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), led by rival coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka, finished a close second with nearly 40 percent of the vote to clinch 21 seats. SODELPA is the largest of the five opposition parties, winning 28 percent of the vote in 2014. But observers say internal divisions and a succession of corruption cases against party leaders have rendered opposition to Bainimarama's government largely ineffective.

Fiji's electoral commission was deliberating on the allocation of the seats under the watch of the Multinational Observer Group. Leaders of the four opposition parties held a joint press conference in the capital, Suva, to raise concerns over discrepancies in official figures being released by the election authority.

Election monitoring body Multinational Observer Group (MOG) said in a short interim statement that the Fijian election campaign was conducted according to international standards. "We understand that there are some members of the public who have concerns about the integrity of the pre-poll ballots, and therefore we recognised the need to look closely at this process," it said. In its preliminary report, MOG assessed the electoral processes as "transparent and credible" and that the election "was on track to reflect the will of the voters".

Bainimarama, 64, led a bloodless coup 12 years ago, vowing to end the instability that saw four governments toppled between 1987 and 2006. For eight years he led a military regime that ruled by decree as he reshaped the political landscape. Under his watch, the island nation of 920,000 enjoyed sustained growth in its tourism-reliant economy. Supporters say he has helped heal racial divisions by introducing equal rights for Indian-Fijians, a sizeable minority brought in to work on sugar plantations during British colonial rule. He 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.

Initially branded a dictator by regional powers such as Australia and New Zealand, Bainimarama has gained international acceptance since the 2014 election. He has campaigned on the global stage for climate change action, chairing the UN's COP 23 talks on global warming and highlighting the plight of island nations threatened by rising seas.

But critics, including rights group 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. Amnesty International says Bainimarama's government is yet to fully restore freedoms that were suspended for several years after the 2006 coup. "Since the last general elections in 2014, the human rights situation in Fiji has remained under attack," it said ahead of the vote, pointing to police brutality, curbs on freedom of assembly and media, as well as persecution of rights advocates.

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