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Influential Fijian party votes to support opposition coalition


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Influential Fijian party votes to support opposition coalition

FIJIAN LEADER. Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) leader Viliame Gavoka at a press conference at the party head office in Suva, Fij, Sunday, December 18, 2022.

AAPIMAGE via Reuters Connect

Fiji's 'king-maker' party SODELPA votes to form a coalition with two other parties to unseat current Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama

Fiji’s Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) said on Friday, December 23, it had voted to form a coalition with two other parties to dislodge Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, signalling an end to the former military leader’s 16 years in power.

Fiji, which has a history of military coups, was dominated by sometimes tense race relations between its indigenous majority and a big ethnic Indian group, before constitutional reform in 2013 to remove a race-based voting system that favored indigenous Fijians.

The military was called in to assist police maintain law and order on Thursday, December 22, after Bainimarama and the head of police said there had been attacks on the Indian ethnic minority in the wake of a national election last week that showed no party received a clear majority.

Opposition parties accused Bainimarama and his allies of stoking fears of ethnic trouble as a pretext to cling to power. Bainimarama has yet to concede defeat.

A coalition of three parties including SODELPA said earlier this week it had secured a combined majority and had agreed on the leader of the People’s Alliance, Sitiveni Rabuka, as prime minister Bainimarama and Rabuka are both former coup leaders.

There was a heavy police presence outside the Southern Cross Hotel in the capital of Suva as the SODELPA board met on Friday to vote on the matter for a second time in a week.

Addressing media after the meeting ended, SODELPA leader Viliame Gavoka said SODELPA’s board had voted 13-12 in favour of forming a coalition with People’s Alliance and National Federation Party. .
“We believe we have agreed on a way forward that benefits this country,” he said. “Democracy has won.”

Strategic position

Fiji has been pivotal to the strategically located region’s response to increasing competition for influence between China and the United States, and struck an agreement with Australia in October to work more closely with its military.

Rabuka has previously said he favors close ties with Australia and supported western-style democracy, while SODELPA has said it is a Christian party that wants Fiji to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

“We stand ready to work with whoever forms government in Fiji,” Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said earlier on Friday. “Fiji will remain an important partner of Australia.”

A SODELPA official told reporters a new coalition agreement would be ready to sign on Wednesday, and the party was preparing directives to lawmakers on who they should vote for as prime minister and speaker when parliament sits.

Only Fiji’s president can recall parliament, and must do so by January 2.

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Rabuka and Bainimarama had led delegations to the hotel to make presentations to SODELPA, which has emerged as a power-broker after winning three seats in the hung parliament.

SODELPA supports policies favouring indigenous Fijians, while Rabuka’s coalition partner, National Federation Party, has drawn support from the Indian community. It was unclear what Rabuka’s party had offered on Friday in return for SODELPA’s support.

Military vehicles patrolled the hotel vicinity as SODELPA met, although Army Commander Major General Jone Kalouniwai said the police were still in control and the military would “respect whatever the outcome is,” Fiji Village reported.

Overnight, some Fijians had posted images of calm scenes and Christmas shopping to social media in protest at the decision to call in the military to assist policing. – Rappler.com

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