Fiji election: 2 former coup leaders run for office

WELLINGTON, New Zealand –

Fijians voted Wednesday in an election that pits two former military coup leaders against each other at a time when the nation is trying to recover from a severe economic downturn.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is looking to prolong his 16 years in power.

He first held the highest office by force in 2006 and then reinvented himself as a democratic leader by introducing a new constitution and winning elections in 2014 and 2014. again – but at a reduced rate – in 2018.

Against him was Sitiveni Rabuka, who led Fiji’s first military coup in 1987 and later served as elected prime minister in the 1990s.

The Pacific nation of just under 1 million people relies on tourism. When COVID-19 first hit, the industry evaporated overnight and the national economy collapsed. The World Bank estimates the country’s poverty rate to be around 24%.

The Fijian government said it had mobilized an additional 1,500 police to ensure the vote went smoothly. Polls close at 6 p.m. local time.

Initial results are expected late Wednesday, although final results could take several days, especially if neither side wins an absolute majority.

When asked by reporters about his chances of winning, Rabuka said he “feels great and is getting better.”

But he added that Bainimarama may not accept a losing outcome and could try to seek recourse through the court’s dispute process.

“I hope there will be a large amount of votes in our favor so that if he makes any attempt to bypass that system, then of course, it will be in vain,” Rabuka said.

It is always difficult to dislodge an incumbent, he said.

“They make the rules, we follow them and any mistake will lead to us being questioned, investigated,” he told reporters. “That’s why we were so cautious. In the end, very, very cautious.”

Bainimarama didn’t seem to be in the mood to answer reporters’ questions. One asked him if he would respect the outcome if the vote went against him.

“Of course. Where are you from? Where are you from?” Bainimarama replied, with the reporter replying “Australia.”

“Don’t they have any smart reporters from Australia come and ask me better questions than that?” Bainimarama answered, before ignoring the other questions.

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