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Speight Wins Seat in  New Fiji Parliament - 2001-09-05


In Fiji's crucial general election, the man who deposed the country's democratic government last year has won a seat in the new parliament, despite being in prison awaiting a treason trial. The man he deposed has also won a seat, along with the military appointed interim prime minister.

George Speight was declared the winner in one of 23 seats reserved for indigenous Fijians. He won with only just half the votes, beating his main rival from the SDL, another dominant nationalist party.

George Speight was standing in his home province of Tailevu for the ultra nationalist Conservative Alliance Party, which has now won five seats. Mr. Speight had contested the constituency of Tailevu North under his newly-adopted Fijian name of Ilikini Naitini.

The province was a stronghold of support for his uprising last year. Many of the people in the remote region north of the capital Suva are disadvantaged farmers who see the rebel leader as a hero. To them, he stood up to the Indian-dominated government of Mahendra Chaudhry. It was, in their eyes, intent on dismantling the rights of native Fijians in favor of ethnic Indian minority.

Despite the trauma inflicted on all races by last year's events, this man says the former rebel leader is a great patriot. "You want to show the world that you are behind George and his mission. ... In my point of view, he is my hero," a Speight supporter said. It is unlikely George Speight would take his place in the new 71-member parliament. He has been held on a prison island of Nukulau on treason charges. His trial is scheduled to start in January. If Mr. Speight does not attend the sessions of the new parliament, he will be expelled and a by-election would take place.

His election success came the same day he appeared in court in Suva on separate charges relating to last year's uprising, including unlawful assembly and carrying a gun in public. He looked calm and relaxed while his supporters celebrated outside the counting station in Suva a few miles away.

The man he ousted, Mahendra Chaudhry, has been returned in the western division constituency of Ba with a two-third majority.

Mr. Chaudhry believes this country has the chance to repair the damage inflicted by the coup. "This election is about restoring to Fiji dignity ... about democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law and good governance," Chaudhry said.

One of his principal nationalist opponents, the interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, has had an even more emphatic victory. Mr. Qarase, installed by the military to head an un-elected government last year during the crisis, was declared a new member for Lau, with 92 percent of all ballots cast.

His SDL candidates are emerging as a dominant Fijian force in this election. The SDL is still lagging behind Mr. Chaudhry's Labor Party but the count is yet to reach the halfway stage.

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