Fiji coup leader Frank Bainimarama ahead in poll

An election supervisor counts votes with scrutinisers looking on at a local sports arena after the poll booths closed in the Fiji elections in the capital Suva Initial results show coup leader Frank Bainimarama with a comfortable lead in the first election in eight years

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Fiji's former military leader, Frank Bainimarama, looks on course to win a majority in the first polls in the island nation in eight years.

With more than half the votes counted, his FijiFirst party had just above 60% of the vote, according to Elections Office Fiji.

Sodelpa party, its closest rival, trailed in second with just over 26%.

This is the first election since Mr Bainimarama's coup in 2006. Military rule has been in place ever since.

Elections Office Fiji said 387,400 ballots had been counted in a total of 590,000 registered voters.

It could be days before the full results are confirmed for the 50-seat parliament.

A team of international observers present to monitor the elections are expected to release their initial findings on Thursday.

Controversial leader
Frank Bainimarama Mr Bainimarama is popular with ethnic Indians in Fiji for discarding the race-based voting system

Fiji has seen four governments ousted in coups since 1987. Observers say tensions between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians on the island have been at the centre of the instability.

A new constitution drawn up by Mr Bainimarama meant this was the first election in Fiji to discard the race-based voting system.

His authoritarian rule is seen to have brought stability and economic growth to the country. However, human rights groups accuse him of limiting freedom of speech, censoring and controlling media, and interfering with the judiciary.

Sanctions placed on Fiji after the coup by Australia and New Zealand have been relaxed in recent years.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australian election observers had told her the vote seemed to have gone well. However, she added that more work needed to be done to make Fiji democratic.

"We will continue to work with Fiji to ensure the press can be free, that the judiciary is independent... to achieve what I think will be an acceptable level of democracy and an appreciation of democratic values in Fiji."

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