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Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Q&A: Fiji election

Fijians go to the polls on Saturday in the first general election since the post-coup vote in 2001.

The racial divide between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians, the descendants of labourers brought over from India, is likely to dominate the week-long poll.

Q: What are the main issues?

Some 51% of Fiji's estimated 900,000 population are indigenous Fijians, and about 44% are ethnic Indian. Other groups include Europeans and Chinese.

Ethnic relations and national security are taking centre stage, with the government's reconciliation and unity bill among the key battlegrounds.

The bill proposes an amnesty for offences related to the 2000 coup, which ousted the country's first ethnic Indian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry.

The Fijian armed forces under Commodore Frank Bainimarama vigorously oppose the bill as racially-divisive and have urged rural Fijians not to vote solely along racial lines.

But the military insists it will adopt what its spokesman called "observer status" for the poll, with security the sole preserve of the police.

Land ownership is central to the ethnic divide, with problems in the sugar industry stemming in part from the non-renewal in recent years of leases granted to the first generation of farmers to migrate from India.

About 51% of Fiji's estimated 906,000 people are Fijians of Melanesian and Polynesian ancestry, while ethnic Indians make up 44%.

Other ethnic groups make up 5%.

Q: How many parties are taking part?

Twelve parties are trying to win seats. Here are the main contenders:

The Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL, United Fiji Party) is led by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and was formed in 2001 in one of numerous bids to unite the indigenous vote.

Mr Qarase, a banker by profession, was nominated to the Senate in 1999. He became interim prime minister in the military-brokered settlement after the May 2000 coup, before going on to win the 2001 election. The party has the support of the powerful Methodist Church.

The SDL governed in coalition until early 2006 with the Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua (CAMV), a nationalist party. Some prominent CAMV supporters have been jailed for coup-related offences. Coup leader George Speight's brother was a CAMV minister in the outgoing cabinet.

In February, the CAMV formally dissolved itself and merged with the SDL as part of moves towards a grand Fijian coalition.

But in March, "disgruntled" members were reported to be planning to stand in 22 seats, possibly as independents, with a common platform.

The Fiji Labour Party is led by Mahendra Chaudhry and is largely but not exclusively supported by ethnic Indians.

Labour won 37 seats in 1999 but Mr Chaudhry was ousted in the May 2000 coup, during which he was held hostage at parliament for 56 days. Labour was the second-largest party after the 2001 poll.

The National Federation Party is historically Labour's rival for the ethnic Indian vote, with its roots in the urban electorate rather than among cane farmers. The party did not win any seats in 1999 and lost the only seat it won in 2001 on a legal challenge.

The United People's Party, formerly known as the United General Party, is led by Mick Beddoes and represents "general" voters.

Mr Beddoes complained in April that the SDL was signing hundreds of "general" voters to the indigenous roll, a charge the SDL denies.

Q: What is the voting system?

Reflecting the complex issues arising from ethnic divisions, Fiji uses a system of preferential voting.

Voters cast two ballots - one for an "open" seat and one for a representative of their own community - indigenous Fijian, ethnic Indian or "general", i.e. other communities and Fijians of mixed race.

Rotumans, Polynesians from Fiji's northernmost island, elect a member of their own.

Q: How many seats are up for grabs?

The House of Representatives has 71 seats - 25 are "open", 23 reserved for indigenous Fijians, 19 for ethnic Indians, three for "general voters" and one for Rotumans.

Q: Is there a parallel Senate election?

No. Fiji's 32 senators are appointed by the president on the basis of recommendations by the Great Council of Chiefs, the prime minister, the opposition leader and the Council of Rotuma.

Q: Or for president?

No. The president is nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs. Despite concerns over his reportedly failing health, Ratu Josefa Iloilo was recently confirmed for a second five-year term, as was his deputy, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.

Q: Why is there such a long voting period?

The timetable has been extended compared with the 2001 election, partly so that more polling stations can be used - 1,096 compared to 796 - a move which is being seen as an attempt to boost poll security.

Q: Are there any international observers?

Observers from the European Union, the Commonwealth and Pacific Island countries will monitor the poll.

Q: When will the results be known?

Counting starts on 15 May and results are expected to be declared on 18 May, a day before the anniversary of the 2000 coup.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




SEE ALSO:
Fiji set for May general election
01 Mar 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji meeting eases coup fears
16 Jan 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Chiefs back Fiji's amnesty bill
29 Jul 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji PM 'to review' amnesty bill
13 Jul 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Army threat to Fijian government
12 Jul 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji opposition protests new bill
02 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Fiji
24 May 03 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Fiji
10 Mar 03 |  Country profiles


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