AFP – Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama yesterday vowed to respect an election that could end his 16-year grip on power, as his rival ex-coup leader took an early lead with a small fraction of the vote counted.
Bainimarama, 68, seized control of Fiji in a 2006 putsch, but legitimised his grip on power with election wins in 2014 and 2018.
Standing in the way of Bainimarama’s third elected term is his chief political rival, Sitiveni Rabuka, a 74-year-old former military commander nicknamed ‘Rambo’ after leading two coups in 1987.
With just 70 of the more than 2,000 voting stations reporting, Rabuka’s People’s Alliance party had registered 4,450 votes, while Bainimarama’s Fiji First party had 2,760 votes.
Fiji now faces a nervous wait for a winner to be declared – ballots must be tallied from remote islands and highland villages.
The final count is not expected for at least two days, although provisional returns will come more quickly. The election is being seen as a test of the nation’s fledgling democracy. Asked whether he would accept the outcome, win or lose, Bainimarama said “of course” as he cast his ballot in the capital Suva with his granddaughter in tow.
He then lashed out at reporters, suggesting they ask “better questions”. Rabuka said he would readily concede defeat if beaten, and Bainimarama should do the same.
“I think he will not. So I’m hoping for a flood of votes in our favour, so that it makes any attempt at that course futile,” he said.
“We cannot live forever, we cannot rule forever, so successions from an opposition party should be accepted.”