Fiji's long-time prime minister said the military had been deployed to maintain "law and order", as the former coup leader refused to concede defeat after a close election.
Fijian police said they were calling in the military to help maintain security following a close election last week that is now being disputed.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who has led Fiji since coming to power in a 2006 military putsch, said on Thursday that the move was to maintain "law and order".
He cited reports of post-vote ethnic violence as the reason for the deployment, though opposition parties have disputed these reports and have called for evidence.
The military move came after Bainimarama’s Fiji First party refused to concede the election, despite rival Sitiveni Rabuka's party and two other parties announcing they had the numbers to form a majority coalition and would serve as the next government.
Fiji First Gen. Sec. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told media Wednesday that under the nation's constitution, Bainimarama would remain prime minister until lawmakers returned to parliament within two weeks to vote on the next leader.
Sayed-Khaiyum also questioned the validity of the internal voting which had led to one of the parties joining Rabuka's coalition.
Fiji's police announces that military had been called to help "with the maintenance of security and stability" following an election that promised to remove the country's leader of 16 years pic.twitter.com/RXxYvFWgyR— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) December 22, 2022
Coalition against Bainimarama
The announcement was an alarming development in a Pacific nation where democracy remains fragile and there have been four military coups in the past 35 years. The two main contenders for prime minister this year were former coup leaders themselves.
Reporters in the capital, Suva, said there were no immediate signs of any military presence on city streets.
On Tuesday Rabuka and two other party leaders announced they were forming a coalition with a total of 29 seats against Fiji First's 26 and would form the next government.
“A government we hope that will bring the change that people had been calling out for over the last few years,” Rabuka said at a news conference.
Bainimarama has been in power for 16 years. He led a 2006 military coup and later refashioned himself as a democratic leader by introducing a new constitution and winning elections in 2014 and 2018.
Rabuka, meanwhile, led Fiji’s first military takeover in 1987 and later served seven years as an elected prime minister in the 1990s.
Bainimarama and Rabuka were initially deadlocked after the election. Rabuka’s People’s Alliance Party won 21 seats and the affiliated National Federation Party won five seats, while Bainimarama’s Fiji First party secured 26 seats.
That left the Social Democratic Liberal Party, which won three seats, holding the balance of power. The party decided Tuesday in a close 16-14 internal vote to go with Rabuka — a vote that Fiji First is now questioning.
READ MORE: Fiji election deadlocked between PM Bainimarama and rival Rabuka