Fiji parliament confirms Sitiveni Rabuka as prime minister after days of uncertainty

Sitiveni Rabuka has become Fiji’s prime minister after a coalition of parties voted to install him, signalling an end to Frank Bainimarama’s 16 years in power.

The appointment of Rabuka on Saturday ended 10 days of uncertainty after an election delivered a hung parliament. Fiji’s Social Democratic Liberal party (Sodelpa) held the balance of power and on Friday voted to form a coalition with Rabuka’s People’s Alliance and the National Federation party.

The deal was designed to dislodge Fiji First’s Frank Bainimarama, who has led the Pacific archipelago since a 2006 coup.

Saturday’s secret parliamentary vote for prime minister was closer than had been expected, with 28 members of parliament voting for Rabuka while 27 voted in support of Bainimarama. Rabuka’s coalition holds 29 seats in parliament, indicating that one member had broken ranks to vote in favour of the former prime minister.

Rabuka, 74, said he felt “humbled” to be prime minister as he made his way out of parliament to be sworn in by the country’s president.

The military had been deployed on the streets of Suva as Rabuka and Bainimarama raced to cobble together a coalition government following a deadlocked general election.

Citing unsubstantiated reports of ethnic violence, Bainimarama said the military was needed to maintain “law and order”.

But former military commander Rabuka, who served as prime minister between 1992 and 1999, said the government was “sowing fear and chaos” and “trying to set the nation alight along racial lines”.

Many Fijians feared the government’s claims of ethnic violence and subsequent military deployment were a pretext for a “creeping coup”. Fiji has been upended by four coups in the past 35 years.

Fiji has been pivotal in the South Pacific’s response to increasing competition for influence between China and the United States. Rabuka has said he favours western-style democracy.

At a press conference earlier this month, Sodelpa’s leader said he wanted Fiji’s foreign relations to be closely aligned with Australia, New Zealand and some members of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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