17 Sep 2014

Hours left to vote in Fiji's election

9:50 pm on 17 September 2014

There are now only hours left for Fijians to vote in a poll to bring in an elected government for the first time in more than eight years.

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More than 500,000 people are registered to vote in Fiji's first election for more than eight years. Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

"I feel free. I've been waiting for this day. I just want democracy."

When one man was asked how he felt about being able to vote, the reponse was one of delight and he displayed his purple ink-tipped finger. All voters are having their fingers marked to ensure no one tries to vote again.

This man was one of the first in the queue at the polling venue in central Suva where, before the doors even opened at 7.30am this morning, more than 100 people were lined up eager to take part in the process.

Around the country there are more than 1400 poll stations that have been set up at about 500 venues. In some cases, there are a number of stations at each venue and people have been told which one to use.

Voters are faced with a paper that looks like a Sudoku puzzle with a grid of three-digit numbers. They are handed a booklet with the photos, the names and the allocated voting numbers of candidates, but no one is allowed to take in a piece of paper with the number written down, or to write it on their hand, or they will face serious fines under an electoral decree issued earlier this year.

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A woman submits her ballot paper with the help of a polling official in Suva. Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

Voters in Fiji's election queue at John Wesley College, Suva.

Voters in Fiji's general election queue at John Wesley College, Suva. Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

Nearly 600,000 people are registered to vote but just over 500,000 have the opportunity to do so today. The rest took part in early polling in outlying villages or postal voting.

Fiji has a very young population, which means nearly half of all voters have never done so before. Even Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem has not previously voted in a general election.

Being new to the experience was not putting off one young woman who spoke to Radio New Zealand.

"I'm curious but I guess there's been a lot of information and help given to us in the media, so I guess everyone is just excited. Everyone I know is voting, no one has said no."

She said everyone was hoping for a good government that would look after the people of Fiji.

Long queues were reported at a number of venues and some were complaining of waits over two hours long. But other stations have managed to keep a steady pace with much shorter waits and the Fiji Elections Office said there have been no reports of any serious problems.

Fiji international election observers Peter Reith from Australia and Amb Wahid Supriyadi of Indonesia.

Fiji international election observers Peter Reith (Australia) and Amb Wahid Supriyadi (Indonesia) oversee voting. Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

It was the same for Peter Reith, the co-leader of a multinational observer group, who has been to polling venues in a number of different areas in and near to Suva and said everything seemed to be going well.

"I asked people 'did you feel if you were making your own decision' and in every case they said 'yes'."

Police said a 52-year-old farmer was arrested in a remote part of Vanua Levu Island after allegedly throwing his voter instruction booklet on the floor in the polling station and making negative comments.

People are just casting one vote and the 50-seat parliament will be choosen on a proportional basis.

Seven parties are standing. FijiFirst broadly represents the government of Frank Bainimarama while SODELPA is based on a former party, the SDL, which was the party of the former prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, who was ousted in the 2006 coup.

The Labour Party is led by another former prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, who was prime minister during the Speight coup in 2000.

The National Federation Party is headed by a former economics professor, Biman Prasad, while the People's Democratic Party has its roots in the union movement.

There are two other minor parties and two independents are also standing.

Voting closes at 6pm this evening but anyone standing in the line at that time will still be allowed to vote. Some preliminary indication of results is likely to emerge alter tonight but official results may not be known for days.

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