Fiji’s opposition has reached a deal to form a new coalition government, signalling an end of Frank Bainimarama’s 16-year rule of the island nation. The minor Social Democratic Liberal Party said its executive had voted 16-14 in favour of joining a broad coalition led by two-time coup leader and former rugby international Sitiveni “Rambo” Rabuka, who will now become the country’s next prime minister. As the news filtered through, supporters outside Mr Rabuka’s headquarters erupted into a joyous polyphonic song. Car horns blared and supporters danced in the streets brandishing traffic cones, shawls and placards. Party supporter Elijah Rokoderea said he was relieved to see Mr Bainimarama lose power. “I feel like breaking open the ceiling and celebrating man,” he said from Mr Rabuka’s campaign headquarters. “It’s been 16 years of this oppressive government. You can’t even organise a protest.”


Security guard Mitele Tuqiri said he was ecstatic. “We are going to celebrate tonight, and then tomorrow it will continue.” Mr Bainimarama came to power in a 2006 coup but later won two elections to legitimise his rule. His government has frequently used the legal system to push aside opponents and silence critics and the media. The election had ended in deadlock, with neither Mr Bainimarama nor Mr Rabuka holding enough seats to form a parliamentary majority. They spent days courting the social democrats, and their devout Christian leader, Viliame Gavoka, who has demanded key ministerial posts in any new government and that Fiji establish an embassy in Jerusalem. Details of the final coalition deal are not yet clear. The result has broader regional significance: both Mr Rabuka and his new coalition allies have signalled a desire to cool relations with China.

One of the major negotiation sticking points has been Mr Gavoka’s push to open a Fijian embassy in Jerusalem. The Social Democrats party has brashly sought to position itself as the deeply religious party of indigenous Fijians, or iTaukei. Some iTaukei hold the belief that they are descended from a “biblical lost tribe of Israel”, anthropologist Edwin Jones wrote in 2015. Linked to the arrival of European missionaries, similar beliefs are held in parts of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. Social Democratic supporters waved blue and white flags bearing Hebrew script while party members met, and some cars outside sported “I Stand with Israel” bumper stickers. Mr Gavoka has also previously suggested he is not in favour of a stronger relationship with China – a position that would appear to align more closely with Mr Rabuka’s stand on the matter.

Mr Bainimarama has vowed to respect the outcome of the election, but many Fijians will wait anxiously to see his response. Fiji has been up ended by four coups in the past 35 years, and the possibility of military intervention loomed over this year’s vote. Mr Rabuka wrote to the country’s military commander to step in after questioning early voting results that were delayed by technical “anomalies” and an app glitch. He stopped short of claiming victory but sounded like a man who had won against the odds. “For those who follow, the generations to come, they will look back at the election and say that was the turning point in Fiji’s journey,” he said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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