Fiji’s military called in to maintain order after disputed polls

The prime minister, who has refused to concede, said the military was deployed to ensure security.

A policeman patrols a street in Fiji's capital Suva on December 22, 2022 [Leon Lord/AFP]

Fiji’s military has been called in to help police maintain law and order after last week’s disputed election that resulted in a hung parliament.

The Pacific nation’s longtime Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama confirmed the move on Thursday, citing unsubstantiated reports of post-vote ethnic violence as the reason for the military deployment.

Bainimarama has refused to concede, despite rival Sitiveni Rabuka’s Political Alliance party and two other parties announcing they had the numbers to form a coalition and the next government.

Frank Bainimarama
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama receives his ballot paper during the general elections in the capital, Suva, on December 14, 2022 [Saeed Khan/AFP]

“So long as it is our responsibility to serve in government, we will fulfil our duty to every Fijian’s safety,” Bainimarama said in his first public comments since the December 14 election.

“Reports of harassment suffered by our citizens and violence targeted at Indo-Fijian homes and businesses in the wake of the election are deeply disturbing,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

The decision to call in army and navy personnel was made after police and military leaders met with Bainimarama, said Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho.

There had been threats made against minority groups who were “now living in fear following recent political developments”, Qiliho added.

Those claims were rubbished by Mahendra Chaudhry, the country’s first Indo-Fijian prime minister, who was overthrown in a 2000 coup.

“I see no evidence of unrest here, people are calm and they are waiting for the president to convene parliament so that a prime minister is elected,” he said.

The Pacific nation has experienced four military coups in the past 35 years.

Bainimarama has been in power for 16 years after orchestrating a military coup and later refashioning himself as a democratic leader, introducing a new constitution and winning elections in 2014 and 2018.

The opposition leader, Rabuka, led Fiji’s first military takeover in 1987 and later served seven years as an elected prime minister in the 1990s, before being removed at the polls in 1999.

People’s Alliance Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka signs a document of an agreement to form a new government with coalition partners in Suva on December 20, 2022 [Saeed Khan/AFP]

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, the Fiji First party’s general-secretary and the attorney general under Bainimarama’s administration, said on Wednesday that Bainimarama would remain prime minister until politicians returned to parliament within two weeks to vote on the next leader.

Sayed-Khaiyum questioned the validity of the internal voting, which had led to one of the parties joining Rabuka’s coalition. He also accused Rabuka of sowing division in Fiji.

“The entire rationale of this man has been to divide Fiji to gain political supremacy,” Sayed-Khaiyum said. “And we can see that simmering through again. In fact, it’s not simmering; it’s boiling.”

A day earlier, Rabuka and two other party leaders announced they were forming a coalition with a total of 29 seats against Fiji First’s 26 and would form the next government.

Bainimarama and Rabuka were initially deadlocked after the election. Rabuka’s People’s Alliance Party won 21 seats, the affiliated National Federation Party won five seats and Bainimarama’s Fiji First party secured 26 seats.

That left the Social Democratic Liberal Party, which won three seats, holding the balance of power. The party decided on Tuesday in a close 16-14 internal vote to go with Rabuka – a vote that Fiji First is now questioning.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies