For the first time in eight and a half years, nearly 600,000 Fijians are voting in a democracy-restoring general election. Early voting before the September 17 elections began today in venues around the archipelago, including army bases and prisons. But the long wait for democracy’s return coincides with the capture of 45 Fijian peacekeepers by an al Qaeda-linked group in civil war-racked Syria. They are all new soldiers without peacekeeping experience. The military says they have been affected by seeing people being beheaded near their base. Pre-poll voters are confronted with a big sheet of paper containing numbers beginning from 135 and up to 382. Each number relates to the 247 people running in the elections. Military strongman Frank Bainimarama, who ended democracy with a coup in 2006 and who devised the voting system, is No 279.
Each political party, from Bainimarama’s Fiji First to the rival Social Democratic Liberal Party led by Teimumu Kepa (317), is furiously promoting numbers as voters are not allowed to take campaign material into the voting booth.
People can vote for only one candidate in the open-list proportional representation system.
Bainimarama says he expects to win all 50 seats in the new Legislative Assembly.
Fiji held its last election in March 2006. In December that year, Bainimarama launched a military coup and put Fiji under military rule.
So all-encompassing was his rule that even traditional elections for chiefly titles and religious meetings were banned