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Fiji Modern History

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 different constituencies.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: 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 (NFP).

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.

Contemporary History of FijiMilitary 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 Taukei movement.

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 leader.

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 government.

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.

Commodore Bainimarama

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, Laisenia Qarase.

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 to Bainimarama.

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 meetings.

International insulation

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 charges.

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.

 
 

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