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Fijians Vote for First Time Since 2006 Coup

  • VOA News

Fijians waited in long lines Wednesday to vote in the country's first election since ex-army chief Voreqe Bainimarama seized power in a coup in 2006.

The vote is expected to deliver an easy victory to Prime Minister Bainimarama, who has said the poll represents a return to democratic rule.

Many voters in the South Pacific island chain, which has a population of 900,000, said they were happy to be able to finally choose their leaders.

"We're very excited. Obviously, it's been a long time coming for us to cast our vote and just have a say on the future of Fiji. So yeah, we're very excited about it," said one voter.

Election officials reported no problems as polls closed and said ballot counting has begun. Initial results are expected early Thursday.

After casting his ballot, Prime Minister Bainimarama said he is confident his Fiji First Party will win the most seats in the 50-seat parliament.

"We want a transparent, fair election process because we've come through a lot in the last eight years. We don't want to spoil the roll by changing the ball game on the last day," said Bainimarama.

Troops were on standby for the vote, amid warnings by military officials against those trying to create "an atmosphere of intimidation."

Bainimarama has ruled by decree for years. He is accused of overseeing strict media censorship and ensuring coup leaders are immune to prosecution.

The prime minister has also enacted a new constitution and tried to lessen tensions between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians.

International monitors were watching Wednesday's vote closely, but said it was too soon to say whether the election was free and fair.

Many in the international community have urged Fiji to urgently return to democracy following the 2006 coup, the country's fourth since 1987.