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No Single Party Achieves an Absolute Majority in Fiji - 2001-09-07

The final results in Fiji's crucial general election show no single party achieving an absolute majority. Nationalist People's Fijian Party, or the SDL, has won 31 seats, four seats more than the Fiji Labor Party, led by the ousted prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry. The election is the first since the May 2000 nationalist coup ousted the democratic Chaudhry government.

Two weeks of voting and counting have finally come to an end, but not the political uncertainty. The country will have to wait to see what emerges from a delicate round of negotiations between the major and minor parties, as the search for coalition partners heats up.

It could take several days before it becomes clear just who will form the next government. But Laisenia Qarase, the leader of the Fijian People's Party, the SDL, sees himself as the favorite to become the next prime minister. His party has won more seats than any other, but is just short of an absolute majority.

Mr. Qarase has four more seats than his main rival, the leader of the Fiji Labor Party, Mahendra Chaudhry. The ousted prime minister says he is not giving up, and he is confident of regaining power, which was snatched from him at gunpoint during last year's nationalist uprising.

Mr. Chaudhry says he has been in discussion with the ultra-nationalist Conservative Alliance Party. One of its new members of Parliament is George Speight, the man who led the rebellion 15 months ago.

A key demand in any coalition agreement between the Conservative Alliance and the two major parties, the Fijian People's Party and Labor, would be an amnesty for Mr. Speight and a group of his close advisors, who are being held in prison awaiting trial for treason. The international community would be sure to react should the former rebel leader be freed unconditionally. An editorial in a local newspaper said any party leader who agrees to pardon George Speight in return for political support, would in effect be legalizing murder and treason and would never earn the respect and trust of the community.

When either Laisenia Qarase or Mahendra Chaudhry believes he has the numbers to form the next government, he must tell the president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo. The Constitution says it is then up to him to decide who becomes the new prime minister.