16 May 2006

Fiji's Qarase retains seat as vote count picks up pace

3:11 am on 16 May 2006

The leader of Fiji's SDL Party, Laisenia Qarase, has been returned to parliament by winning more than 93 percent of votes in his Fijian Lau constituency.

Ratu Suliano Matanitobua, also of the SDL, was the first declared winner following last week's general election of a new 71-member parliament.

25 seats are open while the rest are ethnically defined.

Counting has been going around the clock and so far, 14 communal seats have been decided.

The SDL has won eight and the Fiji Labour Party five.

The first Indian seat to be declared was the Labasa rural Indian communal seat and that was won by Mohammed Tahir of the Fiji Labour Party.

Among the Fijian winners are former government ministers, Simione Kaitani, Mitieli Bulanauca and Yonisi Yabaki, all standing for the SDL.

Also elected has been Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu who led the pro-coup Conservative Alliance before it merged with Mr Qarase's SDL three months ago.

The first woman to be chosen this time is Bernadette Rounds Ganilau of the United People's Party who retained her Suva General Voters seat.

Much attention is focused on the non-racial or so-called open seats, particularly in the Suva area, to the determine the final outcome which is not expected to be known until tonight.