By Kirsty Needham and Lucy Craymer
SYDNEY (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Fiji’s parliament delayed its first sitting, where a new prime minister was expected to be sworn in in the Pacific island nation for the first time in 16 years.
People’s Alliance leader Sitiveni Rabuka was expected to become prime minister, after three parties signed a coalition deal on Tuesday after a suspended election.
The deal was designed to remove Fiji First’s Frank Bainimarama, who has led Fiji since the 2006 coup, but Fiji First broke its silence on the election result on Wednesday afternoon and questioned whether the coalition deal was solid .
The constitution requires lawmakers to elect the prime minister from the floor of parliament if no party has won more than 50% of the seats.
Fiji’s parliament secretariat confirmed to RockedBuzz via Reuters in an email that parliament would not meet on Wednesday because Fijian President Wiliame Katonivere has not yet issued a proclamation.
The Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), a power broker that holds three seats in the hung parliament, on Tuesday signed a coalition agreement with the Rabuka People’s Alliance and the National Federation Party.
SODELPA’s decision was made after a close vote in which 16 members of its council were in favour, while 14 had supported Bainimarama’s Fiji First.
SODELPA Secretary General Lenaitasi Duru resigned over the outcome and wrote to Fiji’s parliament and Katonivere asking for a delay in the return of parliament arguing SODELPA’s decision was “null and void,” the FBC television network reported. .
Fiji First Secretary General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who was the attorney general of Bainimarama’s government, held a news conference Wednesday afternoon and said Bainimarama remained prime minister until the new parliament was convened and a new prime minister was elected by 50% of lawmakers.
The president could dissolve parliament, which must meet before January 2, and call new elections if the candidate for prime minister fails to win the support of 50% of MPs after three attempts, he said.
“Rabuka cannot be prime minister unless he is elected to parliament,” he said.
Rabuka responded by saying Bainimarama should accept the election result, Fiji Village reported.
The Pacific island nation, with a population of 900,000, had a history of military coups before constitutional reform in 2013 to remove a race-based voting system that favored indigenous Fijians over a large Indian ethnic group .
Bainimarama won democratic elections in 2014 and 2018 with the support of the Indian community, but he has been criticized for his government’s punitive media laws and pressure on the judiciary, and has not commented publicly since last week’s vote.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Wednesday morning that New Zealand had yet to congratulate Rabuka as she waited for “the dust to settle and for there to be a finality on the trials”.
“I have confidence in Fiji’s ability to lead the remaining stages of this process and I am ready to recognize their new leader,” she said.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Lucy Craymer in Wellington; Editing by Michael Perry and Toby Chopra)