19 Sep 2014

Hopes of Fiji election unity dashed

5:53 am on 19 September 2014

It had been hoped the general election in Fiji - the first since 2006 when the government was ousted by the then-military commander Frank Bainimarama - would bring the nation together: one constituency, one person, one vote.

Fiji First leader Frank Bainimarama

Fiji First leader Frank Bainimarama Photo: RNZI

With the final count to confirm provisional figures under way, Frank Bainimarama's Fiji First party appears to have won 60 percent of the vote.

But at the end of the first day after the ballot, cracks were appearing.

Most of the opposing parties have grouped together to declare their outrage at what they say are major irregularities in the voting process.

Late yesterday afternoon, after meeting in a room at the back of a local cafe for several hours, they issued a statement saying they would not be accepting the results of the election and called on election authorities to suspend all counting and verification of provisional results.

Mick Beddoes and Labour Party leader leader Mahendra Chaudhry sign a statement saying they will not accept the election result.

Mick Beddoes and Labour Party leader leader Mahendra Chaudhry sign a statement saying they will not accept the election result. Photo: RNZ / Sally Round

Mick Beddoes, a senior member of the Sodelpa Party, which grew out of the SDL party of the ousted prime minister Laisenia Qarase, read out the statement.

"The political parties do hereby declare that they will not accept the outcome of these general elections based on the evidence available which points to a co-ordinated and systematic effort to defraud the citizens of Fiji of a free and fair election."

Mr Beddoes described the election outcome a sad day for Fiji.

"The people have chosen to legitimise coups as a way of changing the course of politics."

But the Minister of Elections and Fiji First candidate, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has reacted scornfully, saying the group only started finding fault with the process when its members started to lose in the polls.

International observers described the conduct of the election as credible.

International observers described the conduct of the election as credible. Photo: RNZ / Phillipa Tolley

As the political grouping was making its statement on one side of town, at almost the same time, a multinational observer group was giving its assessment in another part of Suva of how the election had been conducted, and describing it as a credible election.

The group's preliminary statement said:

"The election was conducted in an atmosphere of calm and with an absence of electoral misconduct or evident intimidation... Despite compressed timeframes, a complex voting system and some restrictions in the electoral environment, the conditions were in place for Fijians to exercise their right to vote freely. While counting is ongoing and the results are yet to be finalised, we assess that the outcome is on track to broadly represent the will of the Fijian voters."

But Multinational Observer Mission co-ordinator Andrew Goledzinowski said the group was aware of the allegations of irregularities.

He said they looked into the allegations but failed to validate the claims.

Fiji's Minister of Elections Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who is also a member of FijiFirst , is suggesting an element of sour grapes in the allegations and says the claims lack credibility.

"It is very interesting that they are now making these types of claims after the results are now coming out where it would indicate that FijiFirst is going to win government. They had all the time yesterday (Wednesday). If they found any anomalies they should have made those concerns brought to the attention of the election officials almost immediately."

Depending on who they support, people on the streets of Suva were both jubilant and distraught.

"I kind of think people would have wanted a change in government."

"Very happy just glad it's over."

"You can't seriously believe these elections weren't rigged and they're rigged big time."

In the vote itself, the overwhelming proportion for Frank Bainimarama's FijiFirst party of 60 percent of the vote has remained constant, as provisional results came in during the day for the second half of votes.

The nearest rival is the Sodelpa party, which has also remained fairly constant on 27 percent. The final counting of votes has begun as ballot boxes have arrived at the central tallying place. This stage involves recounting each of the boxes to confirm the provisional results, rung in from the polling booths.

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