Fiji’s military ruler sworn in as elected leader
SUVA, Fiji (AP) — Fiji’s military ruler was sworn in as the South Pacific nation’s elected leader Monday after results confirmed his big win in the first election since he led a coup eight years ago.
Voreqe Bainimarama was sworn in as prime minister-elect during a ceremony and said he plans to travel Wednesday to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, where he will describe his nation’s move to democracy.
“I will tell the world what we have just accomplished in Fiji,” he said. “It will be a landmark occasion.”
Bainimarama and his Fiji First party won an outright majority in the Parliament by taking 32 of 50 seats, according to results released Monday by the Fijian Elections Office. The opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party (Sodelpa) won 15 seats and the National Federation Party won three.
Last week’s election was the first since Bainimarama seized control in a 2006 coup. At a Sunday church service, Bainimarama defended the coup and thanked the military, whom he credited with creating the conditions for democracy.
“I am greatly honored and humbled that the Fijian people put their trust in me to lead them into our new and true democracy,” he said. “My absolute promise is that we will govern for the wellbeing of all Fijians.”
The Fijian Elections Office said voter turnout was 84 percent with almost 500,000 ballots cast. Bainimarama alone won just over 200,000 votes, and, when other candidates from his party were added, Fiji First won 294,000 votes, or 59 percent of the total. Sodelpa candidates won 140,000 votes, or 28 percent of the total.
Parliamentary seats are allocated under a proportional system.
Five opposition parties that contested the election say they don’t accept the result due to voting irregularities.
The leaders from Sodelpa, the National Federation Party and three other parties told journalists they were concerned that multiple ballot boxes had been tampered with. They said some boxes had been removed without the ballots being counted while others had been stuffed with envelopes.
But a group of 92 international observers said the election was credible and they saw no evidence of fraud. It said the result broadly reflects the will of voters.
The election was “enthusiastically embraced by the voters of Fiji who were keen to participate in the democratic process,” the Multinational Observer Group wrote in its preliminary findings. “The election was conducted in an atmosphere of calm, with an absence of electoral misconduct or evident intimidation.”
The group said in a statement Monday it was ending its formal observation work now that the result had been declared.
The group’s endorsement paves the way for international sanctions to be dropped, including Fiji’s likely return this month to full status among the Commonwealth group of nations.
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand.