15 Sep 2014

Fiji prepares for first poll in 8 years

9:52 am on 15 September 2014

Campaigning in Fiji for the general election is all but over and parties are beginning to remove banners, stickers and signs.

Fiji First leader Frank Bainimarama addresses the rally in Suva.

Fiji First leader Frank Bainimarama addresses the rally in Suva. Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

But in these final stages, parties have traded accusations that efforts have been made to unsettle people in order to secure their votes.

The election decree issued by the ruling regime earlier this year set aside 48 hours before polling day as a no campaigning zone.

The supervisor of elections said the idea was to stop incessant politicking and to give people a chance to make up their minds in peace.

Radio New Zealand International's reporter in Suva said the main issues in this election were those basic issues to daily life such as the cost of living and rights to land.

But at the end of the campaigning period parties have accused each other of causing voters to fear the outcome of the election by misinterpreting various party policies.

First poll in eight years

It is the first election for Fiji in almost eight years, with voters urged to embrace democracy after decades of ethnic tensions and military meddling in civil affairs.

There are 590,000 registered voters in the population of about 900,000. They will have the chance to select from 248 candidates standing for election to a new 50-seat parliament set up under a constitution adopted in 2013.

The 17 September vote is considered pivotal to ending Fiji's "coup culture", in which four governments were toppled between 1987 and 2006 amid instability stemming from tensions between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians.

A multinational observer group - led by Australia, India, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea - will monitor the poll to ensure it is free and fair.

Bainimarama a 'military dictator'

A former minister says the Fiji First leader Frank Bainimarama operates a dictatorship and has continued to run the administration as if it were the military.

Samu Alivereti Saumatua was formerly a military colonel and also served as the housing and local government minister.

He is now standing for the indigenous Fijian backed Sodpela party and said he left the administration because he didn't agree with the way things were being done.

"There was no adjustment, and this is what I couldn't stand."

He said it was a type of bullying and as a professional soldier he felt it was not right.

During a rally yesterday Mr Bainimarama brushed off comparisons between him and African dictators, saying those leaders were looking after themselves, while he had acted for the people.

Mr Bainimarama told the rally that other parties were trying to create fear about what might happen if his party is elected.

He said Fiji First had to work hard to correct misinformation that could lead to the sort of events that occurred in the George Speight-led coup of 2000, when indigenous Fijians, or taukei, suffered.

"Where did it end up? Racial discrimination - the Indo-Fijians were safe, the Chinese were safe, the taukei killed each other."

Mr Bainimarama said his party would provide a government of unity and stability.

But the leader of the opposition National Federation Party is accusing Fiji First of putting fear into the minds of people.

Biman Prasad said as voting day got closer, Fiji First was feeling less certain about the election outcomes and was trying to persuade voters they were the party of stability.

He was outraged at comments from Mr Bainimarama about how he would not let Suva return to the violence of the coup era.

Opposition 'desperate' - Fiji First

The Secretary-General of Fiji First, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, told Radio New Zealand that members of other parties were resorting to intimidating tactics.

"In fact the other political parties have their goons around and they go around slashing our posters and banners. A couple of people have already been charged, for example in Vanua Levu.

"We've had vehicles vandalised, people's homes have been stoned, including some journalists recently.

"That is disappointing we thought they would have a certain level of maturity but I think it also goes to show a certain level of desperation on their part."

Today is the last day campaigning is allowed in the lead up to the poll to be held on Wednesday.

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