Since Fiji became an independent state in
1970, the country's politics have been marked by
contradictions between the Fijian indigenous people and
the descendants of the Indians who came to the islands
as plantation workers during the early colonial era. The
conflicts have since 1987 led the military to take power
four times. A return to democracy was completed in the
fall of 2014, but it was done on military terms.
After the Second World War, it was primarily the
country's Indians who, with the support of the UN,
wanted Fiji to become independent. Colonial power
Britain prepared independence by writing a constitution
in which ethnic belonging became of great importance.
The three groups of Fijians, Indians and "others"
(mainly remaining British and Chinese) were given
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Fiji. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
On October 10, 1970, Fiji became an independent state
within the Commonwealth with the British monarch as head
of state. The policy was completely dominated by the
Alliance Party (AP)
under the chief and Prime Minister Kamisese Mara. The AP
was supported by almost all Fijians, Chinese and
Europeans as well as by some Indians. However, most
Indians preferred the National Federation Party
Social change among the Fijians, who now also lived
in the cities, created cracks in the AP. In the 1970s,
marginalized groups began to run campaigns under the
slogan "Fiji for the Fiji". Among them was an extremist
nationalist organization called the Taukei
Movement. Others, both Indians and Fijians,
who were tired of segregation, formed Fiji's
Workers' Party (FLP) in 1985.
In the 1987 election, the AP was defeated by a coalition
between NFP and FLP. Fiji got its first government where
most ministers were Indian, even though Prime Minister
Kamisese Mara was Fiji.
Military coups 1987
The change of power led to a military coup, which was
driven by the Taukei movement. One month after the
election, in May 1987, the government was ousted by
soldiers led by Sitiveni Rabuka. The coup triggered
extensive protests in the form of demonstrations and
riots. Not least, many Indians were attacked by the
Political leaders entered a compromise on
power-sharing in September, but then Rabuka implemented
a new coup. The constitution was repealed and Fiji
proclaimed a republic. In December of the same year,
Kamisese Mara was re-elected as Prime Minister, at the
head of a predominantly civilian government but with
Rabuka as Minister of the Interior and without
representatives of the election winners NFP and FLP.
Among the ministers were also representatives of the
Taukei movement. A new constitution guaranteed the
Fijians majority in Parliament.
In the 1992 elections, Rabuka's newly formed
nationalist Fijian political party (Soqosoqo
Vakavulewa ni Taukei, SVT) prevailed.
Rabuka formed government and Kamisese Mara was appointed
president. However, Fijians and Indians continued to
dispute the electoral system and land ownership. After
intense debate in 1997, a new constitution was adopted,
which was still based on ethnic affiliation, but which
meant a more reasonable distribution of power between
the ethnic groups.
In the 1999 election, Rabuka and SVT lost power to a
coalition between the now Indian-dominated FLP and three
Fijian parties. FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry became
Fiji's first indiscriminate prime minister, sparking bad
blood among Fijian nationalists.
New coup 2000
In May 2000 a new coup came. Chaudhry and other
ministers were taken hostage. The coupler Georg Speight
painted himself as a champion of the Fijian indigenous
people and managed to get some hearing for that image
abroad. During two chaotic months, many Indians were
affected by violence and harassment. Army Chief Frank
Bainimarama then stepped onto the scene, forced
President Mara to resign and got the captured
politicians released. In July, the military appointed a
civil transitional government, led by Laisenia Qarase
and with only Fijian ministers. The Chief Council
appointed Josefa Iloilo a new president. Speight was
arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
After two courts ruled that Qarase's government was
illegal, a new election was organized in 2001. Qarase
launched the United Fiji Party (Soqosoqo
Duavata ni Lewenivanua, SDL), which
replaced SVT as the dominant Fijinationalist party. SDL
became the largest in parliament, despite the fact that
the Indian-dominated FLP received the most votes. Qarase
and SDL formed a feminist coalition. Even now, all
Ministers were Fijians. FLP leader Chaudhry, with the
support of the constitution, demanded a seat in the
government. Chaudhry got the right from the Supreme
Court, but in 2004 he accepted the role of opposition
A new parliamentary election was held in May 2006.
Qarase's SDL became the largest party but offered FLP
ministerial posts, though not for Chaudhry. Army chief
Bainimarama was openly critical of the new government.
He was particularly opposed to a supposed amnesty for
the coup maker.
A fourth coup in 2006
In December 2006, Bainimarama conducted a military
coup. Qarase was placed under house arrest, a state of
emergency was announced, censorship was introduced and a
number of civil servants were dismissed. The coup was
condemned abroad. In January 2007, Bainimarama appointed
a transitional government with himself as prime
minister. FLP leader Chaudhry became finance minister,
and all other major parties were also in the government.
Bainimarama made it clear that he intended to purge
the constitution from ethnically based divisions, to
create a true multicultural Fiji. However, he showed no
greater respect for democratic rules of the game.
When the Chief Council refused to support the coup,
it was dismissed by Bainimarama. He then appointed
himself as President of the Council, so that he could
personally appoint all new members. In August 2008,
Bainimarama withdrew a pledge to hold elections the
following year. First, a new electoral system must be
established, he argued. Chaudhry and FLP now left the
In December 2008, SDL, several small parties, unions
and civic groups formed the Movement for
Democracy in Fiji (MDF), whose
aim was to restore democracy. In early 2009, several
government critics got their homes, cars or offices
vandalized by unknown men.
In April 2009, it looked as if democracy was about to
be restored. The Court of Appeal then ruled that Fiji's
then-president, Josefa Iloilo, had violated the
constitution when he appointed the transitional
government led by Bainimarama (usually titled Commodore
commander) after the coup in 2006. The court ordered the
president to appoint a "reputable person" as acting
prime minister. Bainimarama was explicitly excluded, as
was the prime minister he had deposed in the coup,
Bainimarama resigned, but as early as the following
day, April 10, President Iloilo repealed the
constitution and introduced a state of emergency. A day
later, Bainimarama was re-elected as prime minister and
his "transitional government" was sworn in again. The
military then began to take control of all parts of
society. Journalists, religious leaders, judges and
other government officials were arrested or placed under
house arrest. Strict media censorship was introduced and
the state of emergency was extended.
In July 2009, President Iloilo announced his
resignation. He was replaced so far by Vice President
Epeli Nailatikau, a former army officer with close ties
A month later, former arch-enemies Laisenia Qarase
and Mahendra Chaudhry (both former prime ministers)
jointly contacted Bainimarama to propose a political
process that would lead to democratic elections by
October 2010. Bainimarama showed no interest in their
proposals. In September 2009, Fiji was in practice
deprived of its membership in the Commonwealth, when the
country was excluded from participation in ministerial
In November 2009, Epeli Nailatikau officially took
office as president after a few months as acting in
office. According to Bainimarama, the president would
henceforth sit for three years and no vice-president
would be appointed, but if necessary the country's
highest judge would substitute as president.
In 2010, Chaudhry sharpened its criticism of
Bainimarama's regime. In July, Chaudhry was indicted for
money laundering, tax fraud and for failing to declare
his assets in foreign currency between 2000 and 2010. He
was subsequently released on bail. In October, Chaudhry
was arrested again, now accused of holding a meeting in
violation of the state of emergency. Once again he was
released to the castle. The trial of the opposition
leader began in November 2010, but in February 2011 the
prosecution was dropped.
In September 2010, Fiji was suspended from the
Commonwealth because the return to democracy was
delayed. Fiji was also excluded from the PIF (Pacific
Islands Forum) regional cooperation organization for the
same reason. The international isolation forced the
regime to start planning for a return to a popular
government. In January 2012, the state of emergency was
revoked. Bainimarama promised to start a dialogue with
other political and social forces on a new constitution.
In practice, however, the daily existence of the
population did not change, as the exemption was replaced
by a series of decrees which regulated "general order"
and which were considered to give the authorities equal
opportunities to keep opposites under surveillance.
Laisenia Qarase - the prime minister who was deposed
in the coup in 2006 - was sentenced in August 2012 to
one year in prison for corruption. The crimes must have
been committed during Qarase's time as head of a state
investment company in the 1990s. Qarase denied the
Gradual return to democracy
In June 2012, a Constitutional Commission was
appointed under the leadership of Yash Ghai, a respected
Kenyan constitutional expert. The Commission turned to
the whole community and took in over 7,000 views and
suggestions from individuals and groups, including
strongly regime-critical parties. The Commission
criticized Bainimarama's demand for self-governing the
composition of the Constituent Assembly, which would
write a new constitution on the basis of the
Commission's proposal, but accepted some of the
conditions described by the Prime Minister as
"non-negotiable", including that all militaries who
participated in coups should impunity is guaranteed.
Nevertheless, the Commission's proposal, presented in
January 2013, went straight into the military's trash.
Bainimarama felt that the Commission was listening too
much to the opposition.
Instead, the military regime began writing its own
constitutional proposal, which became clear in March of
that year. At the same time, Bainimarama announced that
no Constituent Assembly would be appointed as promised.
It was presumed that the regime did not want any
democratic debate on a constitution that would give the
army a heavy role as overseer of political life.
The new constitution was officially presented in
August 2013, after the public had the opportunity to
comment. It came into force in September of that year
with the approval of President Nailatikau, who was
renewed by regulation until 2015. Through the new
constitution, democracy was formally re-established (see
also Political system) and parliamentary elections were
planned for 2014. Bainimarama announced he intended to
run for election. He formed a new party in the spring of
2014, called Fiji First, which would
serve as his platform in the elections.
In May 2014, Mahendra Chaudhry was fined for failing
to declare a fortune he had deposited in Australia. The
verdict meant that Chaudhry could not run for election.