After post-electoral standoff, Rabuka takes office as Fiji’s new PM

From newswire reports and BenarNews
After post-electoral standoff, Rabuka takes office as Fiji’s new PM Sitiveni Rabuka is sworn in as the prime minister of Fiji in Suva, Dec. 24, 2022.
Leon Lord/Fiji Sun via AP

Updated at 12:57 p.m. ET on 2022-12-24

Sitiveni Rabuka took the oath of office as Fiji’s new prime minister Saturday after narrowly winning confirmation to the post through a secret ballot among parliamentarians, sealing an end to incumbent Frank Bainimarama’s 16-year rule, news agencies reported.

Rabuka, 74, a former PM and two-time military coup leader, returns to head the government of the tiny Pacific island nation, which finds itself in the middle of a tug-of-war between great powers vying for regional influence.

The ex-army officer clinched the nomination to the prime minister’s post by a margin of one vote over Bainimarama during a special sitting of Fijian parliamentarians earlier on Saturday, news reports said.

Three opposition parties earlier this week agreed to form a coalition government headed by Rabuka after Bainimarama’s ruling Fiji First party failed to secure an outright majority in the Dec. 14 general election. Before Saturday's vote in parliament, Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup and ruled Fiji since then, was refusing to concede defeat.

Bainimarama told reporters Saturday that his removal from office reflected the democratic process, according to Reuters.

“This is democracy. That is my legacy,” the news service quoted Bainimarama, a former navy officer, as saying.

The decisive parliamentary ballot that clinched Rabuka’s victory came amid tensions after Bainimarama’s government ordered military troops deployed to the streets to maintain security in response to what police said were post-electoral threats against minority ethnic groups.

Police on Wednesday said there had been “stoning incidents” that targeted the homes and businesses of Indian Fijians but didn’t give details. 

Fiji has had four coups since independence in 1970, partly a legacy of British colonial policies that restricted the economic activities of indigenous Fijians while bringing tens of thousands of indentured laborers from India in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

The first two coups were led in 1987 by Rabuka, an indigenous Fijian nationalist, and highlighted racial divisions that had developed in Fiji over decades. 

The coups followed the election defeat of a predominantly indigenous Fijian political party and are remembered as a retributive and traumatic period by many Indian Fijians.

Rabuka’s return to power was made possible because of the backing from the Social Democratic Liberal Party, known as Sodelpa, and which proved to be a kingmaker in this month’s election.

Sodelpa’s leader said he didn’t support forming a security relationship with China, and preferred that Fiji’s foreign relations be closely aligned with Australia and like-minded democracies in the Pacific region.

Sino-Fijian relations burgeoned after Bainimarama overthrew the elected government in the 2006 coup, but a close security relationship with the United States and its allies has continued.

On Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden congratulated Rabuka upon his induction as prime minister.

“As close partners, Fiji and the United States work together to advance an Indo-Pacific that is free, open, prosperous, and secure,” the American leader said in a statement released by the White House.

Australia and New Zealand, for their part, had initially sought to isolate the unelected Bainimarama government internationally.

The prime ministers of both countries were among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Rabuka.

“We strongly value Fiji as a close friend and partner as we progress our shared priorities for the region,” New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern said, according to Radio New Zealand.

“I wish to acknowledge former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s important legacy for Fiji and his role as a regional leader supporting action on regional issues, including climate change.” 


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