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Fijians prepare to vote in ‘toughest election’ for Bainimarama | News


Voters in Fiji will go to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new parliament after a bitter race between the two former coup leaders.

The general election pits Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 2006, against his longtime rival, Sitiveni Rabuka, a military commander who has led two coups. took power in 1987.

Bainimarama, 68 years old, who managed to manage China-US rivalry in the Pacific region and has champion efforts to tackle climate changeis seeking a third term through the ballot box.

Fiji His first party feel free to win Democratic elections in 2014 but fought for a majority in the next election in 2018.

Analysts say that now faces “the toughest election ever”, with voters increasingly concerned on the increasing cost of living.

The tourism-dependent Pacific nation has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic; about a quarter of the country’s 900,000 people live in poverty.

Voters also fear a return of unrest in a country that has seen four coups in 35 years.

The coups were fueled by racism, with indigenous Fijians fearing losing political control to the economically powerful Indo-Fijian minority, who make up 35% of the country’s population. and are descendants of ethnic Indians brought there by the British to work. sugarcane fields in colonial times.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama attends a meeting during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow
Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has been in power since 2006 when he staged a bloodless coup [File: Phil Noble/Pool via Reuters]

Bainimarama, following his coup, moved quickly to abolish traditional, rival power bases such as the General Assembly of National Fijian Chiefs and promote equal rights for all Fijians, culminating in a constitutional change in 2013 to eliminate the race-based electoral system. He won Indo-Fiji support for the move, but Rabuka tried to infiltrate the community by forming a coalition with the National League Party, which attracted a vote strong multi-racial.

“This will be the toughest election for Bainimarama yet,” wrote analysts Lucy Albiston and Blake Johnson in a recent blog post from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

“Despite the lack of reliable pre-election polls, it looks like Rabuka could win, forming a coalition with Fiji’s National League Party. The split between Bainimarama and Rabuka used to be about race, but Rabuka has consistently tried to show a shift in his stance on Indo-Fiji rights since the 1987 coup. This year, it was. on social issues and government services,” they wrote.

Others say that holding onto power since 2006 could be both a “curse and a blessing” for Bainimarama in the polls.

Shailendra Singh from the University of the South Pacific said: “A curse can make people feel that this government has been in power for too long. “There can be voter fatigue – same government and same faces, same messages.”

Singh told AFP news agency that the high cost of living, with inflation around 5%, will weigh heavily on voters’ minds.

“Right or wrong, the government will bear most of the responsibility for this, so I believe it will be a major determinant of how people vote,” he added.

Bainimarama, who described the election as “the most important election ever”, sought to reassure Fijians of growth and prosperity.

“We know the risks: our recovery, our jobs, family support, strong leadership serving everyone equally,” Bainimarama said. know during a campaign stoppage before the election’s pre-election media outage.

A group of election observers board a boat on an island in Fiji.  The sky is cloudy and they are wearing life jackets
A multinational observer team is in Fiji observing Wednesday’s polls [Multinational Observer Group via Reuters]

Rabuka, meanwhile, said the Fijians were ready for change and predicted victory was within reach.

“After 16 years of disastrous dictatorship, we are getting very close to its end,” he told supporters. “We’ll just throw them in the history trash where they rightly belong.”

Observers say the military’s role will be pivotal after Wednesday’s vote.

For now, the military has sought to allay fears of a military-led intervention, with Major General Jone Kalouniwai stressing that his forces will “glorify the democratic process by respecting the democratic process.” result”.

A multinational observer team led by Australia, India and Indonesia will send around 90 election observers to oversee polling stations and national vote counting centres.

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