Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will stay in power for a second consecutive term as he has narrowly won a general election that was delayed by intense storms.
Bainimarama’s FijiFirst party won 50.2 percent of the vote to claim 27 of the 51 seats in the Pacific island nation’s parliament for the next four years, according to the electoral commission.
The opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), led by rival coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka, finished a close second with nearly 40 percent of the vote to clinch 21 seats.
“I’m proud to become your prime minister once again,” Bainimarama told FBC News from Auckland, New Zealand, where he had been attending his brother’s funeral.
Fiji went to polls on Wednesday, only the second time the country has held democratic elections since former military strongman Bainimarama led a bloodless coup in 2006.
Heavy rain caused some parts of the nation to delay voting until Saturday.
Fiji’s electoral commission was deliberating on Sunday on the allocation of the seats under the watch of the Multinational Observer Group.
The commission’s official announcement of the election result is expected early this week.
Earlier on Sunday, leaders of the four opposition parties held a joint press conference in the capital, Suva, to raise concerns over discrepancies in official figures being released by the election authority, the Fiji Times reported.
“The supervisor of elections has been in a great hurry to get the results out,” Mahendra Chaudhry of the Fiji Labor Party said.
“He (the supervisor) has, in the process, compromised the procedures and the requirement of the law, so that should be set right if this election is to have any credibility,” Chaudhry said.
Elections Supervisor Mohammed Saneem said in response that the authorities had been open.
“The people of Fiji deserve better in terms of information. And the Fiji Elections Office is giving all the information accurately in a timely manner,” Saneem said in a Facebook Live video.
Endorsing Saneem’s claims, election monitoring body Multinational Observer Group (MOG) said in a short interim statement on Friday that the Fijian election campaign was conducted according to international standards.
“We understand that there are some members of the public who have concerns about the integrity of the pre-poll ballots, and therefore we recognised the need to look closely at this process,” it said.
In its preliminary report, MOG assessed the electoral processes as “transparent and credible” and that the election “was on track to reflect the will of the voters”.
From military ruler to PM
Bainimarama, 64, led a bloodless coup 12 years ago, vowing to end the instability that saw four governments toppled between 1987 and 2006.
For eight years he led a military regime that ruled by decree as he reshaped the political landscape.
Under his watch, the island nation of 920,000 has enjoyed sustained growth in its tourism-reliant economy.
Supporters say he has helped heal racial divisions by introducing equal rights for Indian-Fijians, a sizeable minority brought in to work on sugar plantations during British colonial rule.
He has also made Fiji’s foreign policy less reliant on Australia and New Zealand, which both tried to isolate his regime when he seized power, allowing China an increased role in aid and development.
But critics, including rights group Amnesty International, say some democratic fundamentals such as media freedom and the right to assembly remain inadequate under Bainimarama, who is notoriously sensitive to criticism.
Fiji is by far the most populous and economically powerful of the South Pacific island nations and seen as a regional hub for business and diplomacy.