Fiji on edge amid surging post-election turmoil

Sitiveni Rabuka (front right) after this week's meeting that sealed a deal for him to return as Fiji's PM.

Sitiveni Rabuka (front right) after this week's meeting that sealed a deal for him to return as Fiji's PM. Photo: Getty

Fiji’s Social Democratic Liberal Party is due to meet to decide whether its decision to form a coalition with the opposition stands, a move that comes after the Pacific country’s military was called in to help police maintain law and order.

SODELPA held the balance of power with the FijiFirst government and the People’s Alliance-National Federation Party coalition both commanding 26 seats in Fiji’s expanded 55-member parliament.

SODELPA narrowly sided with the coalition 16 votes to 14 after days of negotiations. Its management board will meet again on Friday after some members whose terms had expired were part of the Tuesday meeting.

The board will decide whether the decision to join the coalition stands or whether the vote needs to be held again.

Political turmoil continues in the nation marred by coups, with the incumbent nationalist government refusing to concede the election.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho cited incidents of stonings against Indo-Fijians as a rationale to request army intervention in maintaining law and order on Thursday.

Little detail has been given about the purported racial targeting.

But prime minister-elect and People’s Alliance leader Sitiveni Rabuka took to Twitter to say senior police officials confirmed to him the stone-throwing accusations had been made up.

He branded Mr Sayed-Khaiyum an anarchist for trying to trump up racial divisions.

“[Mr Sayed-Khaiyum] is trying to set the nation alight along racial lines by claiming that racially motivated acts are occurring in Ba,” he wrote in a Friday morning post.

“He is lying.”

Both sides have called for calm.

Local media is reporting Army Commander Major General Jone Kalouniwai as saying the military will abide by whatever the electoral outcome is and is urging others to do the same.

He said the army was being used only to support police and was not taking charge.

The Fijian Police Force confirmed Abdul Khan’s departure in a Friday morning statement. It said it was due to personal reasons, after local journalists cited sources saying it was because Mr Khan disagreed with the decision to bring in the army.

Tess Newton Cain, a Pacific expert at Griffith Asia Institute, said she understood Khan’s departure to be for the same reason.

“Yesterday’s decision to call on the military for assistance was certainly a very significant event and one that is concerning to a lot of people,” she told the ABC.

“Fiji has a fairly well-equipped and well-resourced policing outfit. It’s quite surprising they would feel the need to call on military assistance.”

Indo-Fijians are using the hashtag FijiIsUnited, writing on social media, “I fall in the minority group in Fiji and I have felt completely safe in the lead up to elections, during elections and post-elections”.

Tensions between Indigenous Fijians – about 60 per cent of the population – and Indo-Fijians – the descendants of indentured Indian labourers who make up about one-third – have long marred the Pacific nation’s politics.

Mr Rabuka, who first took power through a 1987 coup and was prime minister through the 1990s after a democratic election in 1992, put in place a constitution branded racist for favouring Indigenous Fijians.

A new constitution was imposed after Mr Bainimarama took power, also through a coup. It removed a race-based electoral system that favoured Indigenous Fijians.

Mr Bainimarama said the 1997 constitution had caused racial discrimination.

This article was made possible through the Melbourne Press Club’s Michael Gordon Journalism Fellowship Program.


Topics: Fiji
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