SUVA: Voters in Fiji headed to the polls on Wednesday for the first time in eight years, following a decision by the South Pacific island nation’s military junta that the time was right for a transition back to democratic rule.
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 has a strong lead heading into the general election.
Seven political parties and two independent candidates are standing for representation in the 50-seat Parliament, and although Fiji First has been criticised for using state media to drown out other parties, the outcome remains undecided.
Under a constitution adopted in 2013, a government must be formed within 17 days of the election, leaving open the possibility of a coalition of several minor parties.
Because Fiji, a chain of 300 islands with a population of about 900,000, has not held an election in almost a decade, nearly 20 percent of the population will be voting for the first time, and polling stations had a festive air.
At several stations, voters began cuing before dawn, expecting long waits, only to sail through in what appeared to be a well-managed system that left many empty by mid-morning.
Despite the enthusiasm, military chief Mosese Tikoitoga warned of unspecified threats against the election and seemed to imply that the military retained the right to intervene.
“The very same people who didn’t want the military to provide the security… are now creating an atmosphere of intimidation against the people or parties that want to cast their vote in a free and fair environment,” he told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.
Preliminary results should begin trickling in late on Wednesday, after polls close.