Fiji Islands’ military regime was suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth on 8 December 2006, pending restoration of democracy and the rule of law in the country.
Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group unanimously condemns military takeover of Fiji’s democratically-elected government.
According to the constitution, Fiji is a parliamentary democracy with a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government.
Fiji’s constitution has always reflected the multi-racial and multi-ethnic nature of its society. The legislature is bicameral, consisting of an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate. Some seats in the House of Representatives are reserved for ethnic Fijians and some for other ethnic groups. Members of the Senate were appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs, the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the Council of Rotuma.
Following the 1987 coups, Fiji became a republic, with a president appointed for a five year term by the Great Council of Chiefs. The president appoints as prime minister the member of the House of Representatives who commands the support of the majority, usually the leader of the largest party or coalition. The prime minister then forms a government which has executive authority. Constitutional amendments require a 75 per cent majority in both houses.
The 1997 constitution brought out a number of formal changes to the Fijian political system. The number of seats in the House of Representatives was increased to 71, 25 of which were opened to all ethnic groups (elected by universal suffrage) while the remainder were to be elected by separate communal electoral rolls. The premiership, but not the presidency, was opened to all Fijians. Voting became mandatory, and the first-past-the-post system was replaced by an alternative preference system. Parties taking more than ten per cent of the votes in a general election have the right to a number of cabinet posts in proportion to the numbers of votes received.
Justice is delivered by the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court and magistrates’ courts. The entire judiciary was dismissed by the president in April 2009 after the Court of Appeal ruled that the government that came into power in the 2006 coup was illegal.
Fiji is an archipelago which consists of 333 islands. Archaeological evidence suggests that Fiji has been inhabited, initially by Melanesian peoples, for more than 3,500 years. The first known contact with Europeans occurred in 1643, when the islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni were explored by the Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman.
In 1874, Fiji became a Crown Colony of Britain. In 1881 Rotuma Island in northern Fiji was added to the territory.
In 1970, Fiji became independent. Until 1987, the government was formed by the Alliance Party which followed policies of moderate multiracialism. The main opposition party, the National Federation Party (NFP), was the largest Indo-Fijian party.
After the elections of April 1987, a coalition consisting of the NFP and the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) came to power. In May the government was overthrown in a coup led by Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, who called for the ethnic Fijian dominance of all future governments. Rabuka led a second coup in September 1987 and in October he declared Fiji a republic. In December he appointed a new civilian government with Sir Kamisese Mara of the Alliance Party as prime minister and Penaia Ganilau as president.
Having been suspended from the Commonwealth in 1987, primarily on the grounds of having adopted a form of government at odds with the expressed democratic will of the people, Fiji was readmitted in 1997.
In 1999 Mahendra Chaudhry, leader of the FLP, became the first Indo-Fijian prime minister. Despite his party’s overall majority in the House of Representatives, he formed a cabinet representing all four of the coalition partners.
In May 2000, armed ethnic Fijians overthrew the government, occupying the parliament building and taking about 40 hostages – including the prime minister. Following negotiations between the army and the rebels, the hostages were eventually released, and a new civilian president and ‘emergency’ government were appointed and backed by the military. In June Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth pending the restoration of democracy.
A general election was held under a new constitution between August and September 2001. Soqosoqo Duavatani Lewenivanua (SDL) won the largest number of seats; SDL leader and head of the interim government Laisenia Qarase was sworn in as prime minister. Suspension from the Commonwealth was lifted in December 2001.
The May 2006 election was again won by the SDL. Qarase continued as prime minister and, in accordance with the constitution, appointed a cabinet in which nine posts were filled by the FLP. In December the army took control of the government and dismissed the prime minister and the president; the head of the army Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama assumed the presidency. The coup was immediately denounced by the international community, and Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth for the third time. In January 2007 Bainimarama reinstated the president and became interim prime minister.
Fiji’s Court of Appeal ruled in April 2009 that the military coup of 2006 and the interim government which followed it were illegal. The ruling requested that the president appoint an interim prime minister and call a general election. The president, Josefa Iloilo, suspended the constitution and dismissed all the judges. He appointed himself as head of government and subsequently reinstated Bainimarama as prime minister.