Kingmakers crown Sitiveni Rabuka as new Fijian PM

Sitiveni Rabuka will lead Fiji thanks to his one-vote win in the national parliament. <i>Photo: AAP</i>

Sitiveni Rabuka will lead Fiji thanks to his one-vote win in the national parliament. Photo: AAP Photo: AAP

Cheering, singing, car horns and even fireworks have filled the streets outside the office of the man who will be crowned Fiji’s new prime minister.

Sitiveni Rabuka will head the Pacific nation after his People’s Alliance party secured the vote of the Social Liberal Democratic Party (SODELPA), whose three members held the balance of power after a hung parliament.

Rabuka will head a tripartite coalition between People’s Alliance, who billed themselves as an alternative to the nationalist FijiFirst government, the Indigenous-focused SODELPA and the more liberal-democratic National Federation Party.

It’s the second time Mr Rabuka will become prime minister after he seized control through a coup in 1987 before legitimising his government at a democratic election in 1992.

He remained in power until 1999.

The heads of the Liberal Democrats narrowly decided to dethrone Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, with 16 votes for People’s Alliance and 14 for FijiFirst after three days of negotiations with both sides.

Mr Rabuka said he was grateful for the decision.

“I’d like to thank the people of Fiji – congratulate them,” Mr Rabuka told party faithful and press gathered at People’s Alliance HQ on Tuesday night.

“They had voted for change and I believe we have given them that.”

National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad called it an historic outcome, saying the people had chosen “a new way, a new path and a new government”.

“The leaders are pleased to be able to give the people of Fiji a Christmas present of a strong and united coalition government ready to respond to their call for change,” he said.

“We promise the people of Fiji that a new era will be starting.”

Both leaders also thanked the prime minister and the FijiFirst government, who are yet to officially concede the election.

The result ends Mr Bainimarama’s almost 16-year reign after he instigated a coup in 2006 and installed himself as prime minister the year after.

Mr Bainimarama led FijiFirst to two democratic victories in 2014 and 2018 but failed to secure a majority at last week’s election.

FijiFirst will command 26 seats in the expanded 55-member parliament while People’s Alliance will have 21, the National Federation five and SODELPA three.

FijiFirst secured 42.5 per cent of the vote, while People’s Alliance took 36 per cent, the National Federation Party nine per cent and SODELPA more than five per cent.

SODELPA campaigned on free tertiary education, $159 million ($106 million) a year for Indigenous affairs, and extra protections for Indigenous land rights.

The party’s religiously conservative leader Viliame Gavoka had also demanded an embassy in Jerusalem, arguing Fiji needs to lean into its Christian principles.

SODELPA vice president Anare Jale said making one of the party’s three members – likely Gavoka – the deputy prime minister despite being the smallest in the coalition was also discussed with People’s Alliance.

But details of the final agreement remain scarce.

The Multinational Observer Group said it has not observed “any significant irregularities or issues during pre-polling, postal voting or election day voting” after electoral concerns were raised by People’s Alliance, the NFP and other opposition parties.

Mr Rabuka had seized on an election night glitch in the results app to denounce faith in the Fijian Elections Office and called for the military to be deployed to observe a fair counting process.

The army commander refused to intervene in the election.


Topics: Fiji
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