FIJI POLICE STEP UP SECURITY AS GENERAL ELECTION BALLOT COUNTING NEARS;

CHAUDHRY’S FLP EXPECTED TO WIN LARGEST NUMBER OF SEATS IN PARLIAMENT

By Michael Field

SUVA, Fiji Islands (August 31, 2001 – Agence France-Presse)---Fiji police stepped up security Friday as coup deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry looked poised to win a mandate to return to office but was facing an intense last-minute drive to keep him out.

Senior diplomatic sources here predict confusion next week with no clear picture of the outcome, but a top police officer claimed Friday that most of the 1,500 people involved in last year’s coup had changed.

"They’ve reformed," Acting Senior Superintendent Romanu Tikotikoca, Director of Community policing, told journalists.

An incident free week of polling ends Saturday evening and counting will begin Monday to produce a 71-seat Parliament, restoring democracy lost on May 19 last year when George Speight and a gang of special forces soldiers held Chaudhry and his government hostage for 56 days.

Although there are no public opinion polls, Chaudhry’s Fiji Labour Party (FLP) is expected to take the largest group of seats, although not as many as the 37 taken in 1999.

Tikotikoca said the country is stable and calm with the rumors and speculation of trouble "like a cloud without rain."

He said with voting over, the joint police and military operation would "go one up" with heightened police presence and new strategies on the ground to prevent new trouble.

"We know too well the list of people that were involved in last year’s turmoil -- all those activities -- and we know the chiefs that were involved, and we know the lists of the criminal elements involved in the turmoil and other people who supported them," he said, adding their names were "for police consumption alone."

Who becomes government may depend less on what the country’s 451,000 voters have decided, and more on how aging traditional ratu or chief President Josefa Iloilo wants to handle it.

The constitution only tells him to appoint a prime minister who "in his opinion has the support of the house" and no method is given for determining who has this support.

Former MP and now University of the South Pacific economist Wadan Narsey warned in a Fiji Times article this week that the constitution was "unclear, inadequate and inconsistent" on the issue of who the president should appoint.

"What if wrong advice is given to the president by unknown advisers, whose recent track record would suggest a dismaying willingness to go off the constitutional track?"

As an old-fashioned style socialist party the Fiji Labour Party has argued bread-and-butter issues, ignoring racial politics in a country where 51 percent of the 832,494 people are indigenous Melanesians or Polynesians and 44 percent Indian.

Chaudhry was the first Indian prime minister, lasting exactly a year until Speight’s coup.

Chaudhry is expected to take most of the 19 Indian seats with the once powerful but now weak National Federation Party taking the rest. With the complicated preferential system used here FLP may also take the majority of the 25 open seats. The 23 Fijian seats are being widely contested, including by caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s newly formed Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL or United Fiji Party), Filipe Bole’s Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei Party (SVT, formed by earlier coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka) and Speight’s Conservative Alliance.

Speight and two other accused traitors are expected to win seats.

The Fiji Sun newspaper Friday headline a report "Ambush," saying Fijian indigenous parties were working on keeping Chaudhry out of office.

International observers are speculating Iloilo will as early as next Tuesday select a Fijian party leader and give him a day or two to form a coalition to rule the country for the next five years.

SVT president Epeli Mataitini told the Sun Friday that the process of unifying Fijian parties against Chaudhry is already under way.

"We need Fijian leadership because this is the only way that the country will have stability," he said.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/  Website: http://www.michaelfield.org 

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