Fiji parliament delay sitting to elect prime Minister

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By Kirsty Needham & Lucy Craymer

SYDNEY (Reuters – Fiji’s parliament has rescheduled its first sitting. This was where it was expected that a new prime minster would be sworn in as the Pacific island nation’s first in 16 years.

After Tuesday’s hung elections, three parties reached a coalition agreement. Sitiveni Rabuka, People’s Alliance leader is expected to be elected prime minister. Frank Bainimarama from Fiji First, who has been leading Fiji since 2006’s coup, would be discredited by the deal.

If no party has received more than 50% of the seats, the constitution mandates that lawmakers elect the prime Minister from the parliament floor.

The secretariat of Fiji’s parliament confirmed to Reuters via email that the parliament would not meet on Wednesday due to President Wiliame Katonivere’s inaction.

Social Democratic Liberal Party, a power broker holding three seats at the hung parliament (SODELPA), on Tuesday signed a coalition agreement with Rabuka’s People’s Alliance as well as the National Federation Party.

After a close vote, 16 members of SODELPA’s board voted in favor while 14 supported Bainimarama’s Fiji First.

Lenaitasi Duru, SODELPA’s general secretary, resigned after the result and requested that parliament be returned to Fiji. TV station FBC reported that SODELPA’s decision had been “null-and-void”.

Fiji’s Police Force issued a statement Wednesday urging calm and asking “all Fijians” to respect the political process.

Commissioner of Police Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho stated in a statement that “We are concerned by the number of stoning incidents we received last night targeting homes and businesses Fijians of Indian descent.”

With a population of around 900,000., the Pacific island nation had been subject to military coups. Constitutional reform was implemented in 2013 to end a race-based voting system which favoured Fijians over large Indian ethnic groups.

Bainimarama won democratic election in 2014 and 2018, with the support from the Indian community. However, he has been criticised for his government’s punitive media laws, pressure on the judiciary and other issues. He has not spoken publicly since last week.

On Wednesday morning, Jacinda Adern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, stated that New Zealand has yet to congratulate Rabuka and that it will wait until “dust settles.”

She said, “I believe in Fiji’s capability to manage the remaining stages of the process and am ready to recognize their new leader.”

Rabuka called for the military to intervene during last week’s election. The request was denied.

(Reporting done by Kirsty Needham, Sydney, and Lucy Craymer, Wellington; Editing by Michael Perry

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