Fiji’s election this week won’t just determine who will rule the picturesque cluster of islands in the South Pacific, but also whether a promise to return to democracy will be fulfilled. About 600,000 Fijians are set to head to the polls Wednesday in what is being touted as the island nation’s first free and fair election. Critics, however, say the vote is little more than a charade held to legitimize the current regime, which gained power in a 2006 coup. The nation’s politics are far removed from the popular image of Fiji: most people who come here are vacationers from Australia or the U.S., seeking sunshine and a getaway on the island’s palm-lined sandy beaches. But the past eight years of military rule have been littered with accusations of human- rights abuses and the quashing of opponents. “All I’ve known growing up is coups, to be honest,” said 27-year-old Monica Waqanisau, who was born in 1987, the year two coups took place. Since then, there have been two more in the former British colony.
Ms. Waqanisau now works as a legal researcher in the capital, Suva, where soldiers and police still have a dominant presence and barbed wire tops fences around government compounds. She said many people say it isn’t a free and fair election. But, she added, “I’m resigned to thinking something is better than nothing.”
There are 50 seats in the legislative assembly up for grabs, with five parties—including Fiji First, which is led by the nation’s current leader, retired Rear Adm. Voreqe Bainimarama—participating in the election. In a system similar to Japan’s, parties receive seats in parliament depending on the proportion of votes their candidates receive.
In an unusual move, there are just numbers on the ballots—voters must remember the number allocated to their preferred candidate. Large hoardings that scream out candidate numbers dominate the main roads.
Full Article: Fiji Heads to Polls, But Will Democracy Be the Victor? – WSJ.