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Fiji election: Military steps in after disputed vote

December 22, 2022

Many in Fiji fear a "creeping coup" is taking place as the military intervenes to calm racial tensions. Both front-runners of the fragile democracy have a history of overthrowing election results.

Police guard the streets of Fiji's capital Suva after the stalemate general elections
The island country of Fiji has seen four coups in the last 35 years, with the country now in a precarious position following a disputed electionImage: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

The Fijian military was called in Thursday to assist the police with maintaining "security and stability" in the island nation after last week's general election failed to yield a prime minister, authorities said. 

The lack of a clear winner, the country's history of coups, and growing racial tensions have gripped the already fragile democracy.

What did Fijian authorities say?

Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho, in a statement posted on social media, said he met with the current Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and other security heads of the country on Thursday where they collectively decided to call in army and navy personnel.

"It's a consensus decision based on​ official reports received,​ intelligence and information gathered​​ and​ the​ ​evaluation of the current security landscape where minority groups continue to be targeted and information of planned civil unrest​ received," Qilho said.​ 

He warned social media users of the implications of their posts on the country's security landscape.

Fiji moved away from a racial-based voting system — which preferred indigenous Fijians over ethnic Indians — only in 2013. This year's election has also seen several reports of harassment and violence targeted at Indo-Fijian homes and businesses. Opposition leaders have disputed these reports, demanding evidence from the police.

Political deadlock

Fiji's current head Bainimarama and former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka went up against each other in a general election last week but failed to gain majority seats in the parliament.

The Social Democratic Liberal Party — a kingmaker with three seats in parliament — has since formed an alliance with Rubka's party to make him the next prime minister. However, the liberal party's board has to meet again after the validity of the decision to back the coalition was challenged by the party's general secretary and Fiji's Supervisor of Elections.

Bainimarama, meanwhile, has refused to accept defeat. 

Fiji’s Prime Minister and Fiji First leader Frank Bainimarama leaves after voting at a polling station
Fiji's current prime minister has refused to accept defeat despite opposing parties annoucing a coalition dealImage: Mick Tsikas/AAP Images/REUTERS

Fijian President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere now has until January 2 to summon the parliament, media outlet Fiji Village reported. The country's next prime minister must be voted in by more than 50% of lawmakers on the parliament floor.

History of coups

The island nation's current political state is especially worrying given the history of coups and fragility of the young democracy. Both Rabuka and Bainimarama have been coup leaders previously.

Bainimarama, 68, is an ex-navy commando who has won the last two elections after first seizing control in 2006. Rabuka, 74, is a two-time coup leader and a former prime minister of Fiji.

The country's voting system has been upended by coups four times in the last 35 years.

Fiji's citizens now worry that a "creeping coup" is taking place, considering the threat of military intervention had been looming over the elections over the past year.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta encouraged all political parties to let the constitutional process play out.

mk/wd (Reuters, AP, AFP)