Fiji coup leader Frank Bainimarama awaits poll outcome

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Media caption,

Phil Mercer says there was a festive atmosphere as polls opened in the capital

Voting has ended in the first election in Fiji since former military ruler Frank Bainimarama took power in a coup in 2006.

Some 590,000 voters were registered to cast ballots for a 50-seat parliament, choosing from about 250 candidates.

The party of Mr Bainimarama, who quit as military chief to contest the polls, is expected to win the most seats.

The polls are being keenly watched by the international community, which has been urging a return to democracy.

After voting ended, election supervisor Mohammed Saneem said the day had gone smoothly.

"We haven't received any reports of any altercations in any of our polling stations and, as such, we can say, from the current information available, that there was no violence," he told reporters.

The Fijian Elections Office said counting of the votes had begun.

'Historic election'

Earlier on Wednesday, long queues formed at polling stations with reports of voters dressed in their Sunday best eager to cast their ballots.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Frank Bainimarama took power in Fiji in 2006 and has ruled ever since

"This is a historic election," Suva taxi driver Anil Kumar told the Associated Press news agency. "I'm excited that I will be able to cast my vote. I'm looking forward to it."

Fiji experienced four coups between 1987 and 2006.

Mr Bainimarama has ruled Fiji since ousting elected leader Laisenia Qarase in the most recent of them.

Mr Bainimarama says he wants to end tensions between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians at the heart of the political unrest.

To that end he has reformed the electoral process, ending the race-based communal voting system.

But in the past eight years he has also ruled with an iron grip, clamping down on free speech, compromising the judiciary and imposing media censorship.

In a recent report, rights group Amnesty International accused him of creating a "climate of fear" in Fiji through his use of draconian laws, and intimidation and harassment of government critics.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Mr Bainimarama (L) has ruled Fiji since ousting its previous elected leader, Laisenia Qarase

Critics also suggest that Mr Bainimarama, whose FijiFirst party is one of seven contesting the polls, has enjoyed a campaigning advantage because of the lack of any formal political opposition.

The Social Democratic Liberal Party (Sodelpa), led by indigenous Fijians, is seen as FijiFirst's closest rival.

Asked if he would accept the election result, even if he lost, Mr Bainimarama said: "I'm not going to lose, I will win, so you ask that question to the other parties."

Official results are not expected for several days but a preliminary count could come in the early hours of Thursday.