Bainimarama claims victory in Fiji poll

Bainimarama claims victory in Fiji poll
Fiji's military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama (L) shares a light moment with an election official (R) before casting his election vote at the Vatuwaqa Public School in the capital Suva.

SUVA, Fiji - Fiji coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama declared himself the Pacific nation's new prime minister Sunday, four days after the country's first democratic election in eight years since he took power.

Although the final vote count has not been released, provisional results show Bainimarama's Fiji First Party heading towards a clear victory.

"My fellow Fijians, as you know Fiji First has won the general elections and I will lead the new government to serve the nation," he told thousands of cheering supporters gathered in a sports stadium.

"I am deeply honoured and humbled that the Fijian people have put their trust in me to lead them into our new and true democracy." The former military strongman also told the crowd he would attend the upcoming United Nations General Assembly to outline the nation's progress.

Bainimarama's victory declaration came after the Fiji Electoral Office showed Fiji First with 59.1 per cent of support after votes had been counted at 88 per cent of the polling booths.

This would give Fiji First 32 seats in the 50-seat parliament.

The Social Democratic Liberal Party was a distant second at 28.3 per cent.

"I give you my absolute promise that we will govern for the well-being of all Fijians," Bainimarama said.

"As well as forming the government, I will be travelling to New York in the coming days to attend the United Nations General Assembly. There I will tell the world what we have just accomplished in Fiji.

"It will be a landmark occasion, because I promised the nation of Fiji and the international community that I will take Fiji to the first genuine democracy in our history and I have kept that promise."

'Credible' election

Although opposition parties have complained of voting irregularities, a multi-national observer group in Fiji to scrutinise the poll labelled it "credible" and representing the will of the people.

The 60-year-old Bainimarama seized power in a bloodless coup in December 2006 saying he needed to end widespread corruption and root out entrenched discrimination against ethnic Indians, who make up about 40 per cent of the 900,000 population.

It was seen as pivotal to ending the country's "coup culture", which saw four governments toppled between 1987 and 2006, largely due to tensions between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians.

Bainimarama has focused on growing the tourism-reliant economy, winning favour with policies such as free education and improving infrastructure in rural areas.

His authoritarian regime also tore up the constitution, sacked the judiciary and tightened media censorship, In his speech Sunday he specifically singled out the military "who have stood for the ideal of true democracy" as he acknowledged "their vision, their perseverance and their sacrifice".

Following the coup, regional powerhouses Australia and New Zealand labelled Bainimarama a dictator and imposed sanctions, while the Commonwealth and Pacific Islands Forum suspended Fiji's membership when he reneged on a pledge to hold elections in 2009.

Sanctions were lifted this year to encourage the return to democracy, and Fiji was also allowed to compete in the July Commonwealth Games in Glasgow following years of isolation.

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