Fiji’s first election since ’06

Polls have closed in Fiji’s first election in nearly a decade, and Australia’s observation team has reported no trouble on the ground during voting.

Counting has begun and a preliminary result is expected later on Wednesday, but there will not be a public declaration of the winner until Thursday afternoon.

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Hundreds of thousands of Fijians took part in the first poll since the country’s leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, seized power in a military coup in 2006.

The September polls are the first since Fiji's interim leader Frank Bainimarama led a military coup in 2006.

The September polls are the first since Fiji’s interim leader Frank Bainimarama led a military coup in 2006.

The military strongman-turned-interim prime minister had promised a free and fair election as part of a pledge to return democracy to the Pacific nation, and invited foreign observers to oversee the process.

Shadow parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Matt Thistlethwaite is part of Australia’s delegation and said things had gone “remarkably smoothly” at the dozen or so booths he had attended.

“We haven’t witnessed any trouble,” he said from Lambasa, in Fiji’s north, on Wednesday.

“Fijians have been excited about the prospect of having a say in their future for the first time in eight years.”

It was a public holiday across the country, with long and orderly queues forming outside booths before they had even opened.

Commodore Bainimarama is confident of winning the poll, which for the first time allowed all Fijians regardless of race to elect a new 50-seat parliament set up under a constitution adopted in 2013.

Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009 after Commodore Bainimarama failed to meet a deadline to return it to democracy, but he has since made headway on reforms.

As a goodwill gesture ahead of the poll the Abbott government began a diplomatic thaw with Fiji, lifting travel bans on senior military and government figures.

It was the first step towards re-establishing normal ties with the coup-prone Pacific nation.

Mr Thistlethwaite said the task was ensuring the will of Fijians was upheld and all parties accepted the outcome.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the outcome is, and what occurs in the wake of the election,” he said.

“This is not the be-all and end-all but it’s an important step in the path to Fiji returning to democracy.”

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