Fiji's former military leader is headed for victory in the first democratic elections since he seized power in a coup in 2006, according to early poll tallies.

The early count on Wednesday showed Frank Bainimarama's Fiji First Party had secured more than 59 percent of the vote with 1,000 of the 2,025 polling stations processed.

Fiji First Party's closest rival, the Sodelpa Party, had 27.6, according to official results reported by the Fiji Times newspaper.

In the morning, voters had lined up at polling stations, with just over half a million of the nation's 900,000 citizens registered to vote.

After casting his ballot, Bainimarama was asked whether he would accept the outcome if he lost.

"I'm not going to lose. I will win. You ask that question to the other party," he said. Then he added, "Of course we will accept the election results. That is what the democratic process is all about."

Al Jazeera's Andrew Thomas, reporting from Suva, said what Bainamarama is looking for now "isn't so much power as legitimacy".

The 100 or so international election observers reported no problems by the time polling closed at 6pm local time on Wednesday.

'Fair and free'

In a brief interview with Al Jazeera, Bainamarama said that the voting and ballot counting would be "fair and free".

Finally, once in this generation, our voices will be heard. We can choose who’ll be running the next government.

Joeli Katoniealik,
first-time voter

Fiji, a tropical chain of islands about 3,200km east of Australia, has had four coups since 1987, the latest in 2006.

Voters thronged to the polls, appearing ecstatic about once again choosing their leaders despite the spectre of security threats raised by the military and criticism of Bainimarama for using state media to drown out other parties.

"Finally, once in this generation, our voices will be heard. We can choose who’ll be running the next government," Joeli Katoniealik, a first-time voter, told Al Jazeera.

Bainimarama seized on a long-simmering rivalry between indigenous Fijian nationalists and minority ethnic Indians, the economically powerful descendants of labourers brought by the British to work sugarcane fields, to justify his coup in 2006.

Violence warning

In 2000, ethnic Fijians held the first Indo-Fijian prime minister hostage in parliament for 56 days, in a coup that began with deadly riots in the streets of the capital, Suva.

Bainimarama quickly abolished traditional, rival power bases such as the ethnic Fijian Great Council of Chiefs and old electoral boundaries that roughly grouped people according to their ethnicity to the advantage of majority ethnic Fijians.

He pushed steadily for equal rights, culminating in a 2013 constitution, helping him to consolidate his popularity among Indo-Fijians.

While new laws mean equality has improved on the surface, some have argued that the animosity continues to fester under the surface.

Mosese Tikoitoga, the military chief, seemed to be warning against any repeat of that sort of violence, while at the same time implying that the majority ethnic-Fijian military retained the right to intervene in politics.

Seven political parties and two independent candidates are standing for representation in the 50-seat parliament. Under the constitution, a government must be formed within 17 days of the election, leaving open the possibility of a coalition of several minor parties.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies