Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
From Election to Coup in Fiji

From Election to Coup in Fiji: The 2006 campaign and its aftermath

Jon Fraenkel
Stewart Firth
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: ANU Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    From Election to Coup in Fiji
    Book Description:

    In May 2006 Fiji held its tenth general election since independence in 1970. In a country with an unenviable history of electoral trauma, the mood was apprehensive if not tense - not least because of controversial public statements against the incumbent Qarase government being made by the commander of Fiji's military forces. Despite a record number of parties and candidates, the winners were the two big parties - the heavily church-backed SDL, the party of choice of the majority of indigenous Fijians; and the Fiji Labour Party, the party preferred by most Indo-Fijians. Although the result was ethnically polarised, for the first time in Fijian history the successful candidates came together to share power in a constitutionally ordained multiparty cabinet, with Laisenia Qarase retaining the prime ministership. But the fragile collaboration was short-lived. On 5 December 2006, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama ordered a military takeover, declaring himself 'President', ousting the elected government and replacing it with an 'interim' government of his choice, and once again throwing Fiji into political turmoil. With contributions from ex-Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, ousted Prime Minister Laesenia Qarase, leader of the Fiji Labour Party and now interim Minister for Finance Mahendra Chaudhry, and an impressive array of leading commentators on Fijian affairs, this book provides a comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the lead-up to, the outcome and the aftermath of Fiji's historic 2006 election. Shedding light on the complex weave of traditional chiefly systems, race relations, economics, constitutionality, the military ethos and religion, From Election to Coup in Fiji is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Fiji, the South Pacific and the politics of divided societies.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-36-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Tables
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Figures
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Maps
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. Symbols used in tables
    (pp. ix-ix)
  7. Acronyms and abbreviations
    (pp. x-xi)
  8. Authors’ biographies
    (pp. xii-xvii)
  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xviii-xviii)
  10. Preface

    • Fijiʹs perpetual legitimacy crisis
      (pp. xix-xxiii)
      Stewart Firth and Jon Fraenkel
    • A note on the Fiji electoral system
      (pp. xxiv-xxviii)
      Jon Fraenkel
  11. Introduction

    • 1 Changing calculus and shifting visions
      (pp. 1-10)
      Stewart Firth and Jon Fraenkel

      The mood in Fiji following the 2006 election was positive. Not only had the two major parties performed strongly and confirmed themselves as the unequivocal representatives of their respective communities, but Fijian and Indian ministers were working together at last. If those who drew up the 1997 constitution were right, such cooperation could be expected to bring stability and harmony to the country. Unexpectedly, the constitutional provisions for power-sharing were implemented with the entry into government of a group of ministers from the largest losing party. Given the worsening state of the country’s foreign reserves and the decline of the...

  12. The campaign

    • 2 Chance hai: from the campaign trail
      (pp. 11-25)
      Brij V. Lal

      Balata, Dabota, Tagi Tagi, Garampani: these are distant, even vaguely exotic, names to this Labasa-born lad. They are, in fact, names of hauntingly beautiful places, evoking the sight, sound and smell of growing up in a rural settlement more than half a century ago. The same sprawling, rippling sea of cane fields, people going about their business on horseback or bicycle, weather-beaten faces of sons of the soil, their leathery skin cracked by excessive kava drinking. People show the hospitality and humanity that rural folk everywhere will recognize instantly. A hot cup of tea materializes quickly even in the poorest...

    • 3 The pre-election ʹcold warʹ: the role of the Fiji military during the 2006 election
      (pp. 26-45)
      Steven Ratuva

      The military’s role during the May 2006 election was largely in the form of participation in political campaigns against the incumbent Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) government for the purpose of protecting ‘national security interests’. While the 1987 and 2000 military interventions involved deployment of armed troops, the 2006 deployment largely involved public relations – and at times psychological pressure – to attempt to influence the election results. This was the first time in Fiji’s history that the military was openly involved in electioneering and associated activity. The issue of contention then is: by such involvement, to what extent did...

    • 4 Songs in sheds: some thoughts on the sociology of Fiji elections
      (pp. 46-51)
      Paul Geraghty

      The way elections are conducted in Fiji differs in many ways from the way they are conducted ovasis (a Fiji English term that usually means Australia and New Zealand, but can also include the United Kingdom and other places where kaivalagi – people of European origin or ‘white’ people – reside). These differences are, at least in part, due to indigenous Fijian customs. In this chapter, I attempt to answer such questions as why, in elections in Fiji, there is little or no heckling but lots of prayers and hymns, why people turn up for elections in their Sunday best,...

    • 5 Election observation missions to the 2006 Fiji election
      (pp. 52-63)
      Graham Hassall and Jeannette Bolenga

      The general feeling of unease in Fijian society in the lead-up to the 2006 general election made the presence of election observers of more than academic interest. In his statement of 1 March 2006, announcing that the election would be held over the period 6–13 May, Prime Minister Qarase extended invitations to seven potential observer groups. A media release from the Ministry of Information, Communications and Media Relations stated:

      The Prime Minister…announced that on behalf of Government, he would be extending invitations to the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the European Union, the Pacific Islands Forum, and, bilaterally, to Australia...

  13. The major parties

    • 6 The cycles of party politics
      (pp. 64-77)
      Jon Fraenkel and Stewart Firth

      Fiji politics runs through cycles of consolidation and fragmentation. For the Fijian parties, consolidation is the response to adversity, and fragmentation ensues whenever the heat of national politics cools down. The 2006 election, when Fijians united to back the main Fijian party, reflected such consolidation. But where was the adversity, and where the heat of politics? The truth was that the 2001 election campaign had never truly ended, but flowed almost seamlessly into that of 2006. Meantime, the political temperature had been kept high enough to command the attention of the Fijian voter. Otherwise, regional, provincial and vanua rivalries might...

    • 7 Defending the inheritance: the SDL and the 2006 election
      (pp. 78-88)
      Alumita Durutalo

      Only five years after its birth, the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) won a second general election on the basis of a promise to unify indigenous Fijians. The SDL’s victory in Fiji’s 2006 election signified an extraordinary achievement. The party showed that it had successfully inherited the mantle of its mainstream Fijian precursors, in the process renewing and reviving an ideological orthodoxy inherited from the Alliance Party and the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT). All three parties proved able to capture the majority of Fijians’ votes. In each case, ascendancy has been based on successfully upholding platforms based on...

    • 8 The strategic impasse: Mahendra Chaudhry and the Fiji Labour Party
      (pp. 89-103)
      Samisoni Pareti and Jon Fraenkel

      Leading the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) into its sixth general election, Mahendra Pal Chaudhry showed every sign of being a confident leader-in-waiting. Formed in 1985 on the crest of a wave of support from workers and the general public, resulting from a series of wage increases won from the stand-offish and aloof government of Ratu Mara, his FLP had, by the late 1990s, risen to a position of ascendancy in the Fiji Indian community. Chaudhry’s overthrow in the coup of May 2000 served to cement his reputation as a die-hard fighter against injustice and a standard-bearer for the cause of...

    • 9 The failure of the moderates
      (pp. 104-110)
      The Yellow Bucket Team

      In the lead-up to the 2006 election, certain sections of Suva society and the media made much of the ‘moderates’ and the potential impact they would have at the polls. This was not a new phenomenon: exaggerated expectations of great gains for moderate parties were a feature of media reports and urban aspirations prior to the 2001 election. Similarly, prior to the 1999 election, many believed that the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei/National Federation Party/United Generals Party (SVT/NFP/UGP) coalition would fare well owing to its ‘moderate’ multiracial agenda. Each time, however, the ‘moderates’ have been rejected and not by a...

  14. Issues

    • 10 The impact of the Promotion of Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill on the 2006 election
      (pp. 111-143)
      Mosmi Bhim

      ‘The re-election of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua-led government hinges on the success of the Promotion of the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill… If the Bill goes down, the government goes down with it.’ So said Fiji’s Attorney General Qoriniasi Bale, a key ally of the Prime Minister, at a public meeting on 15 June 2005.¹ That comment, a year prior to Fiji’s May 2006 general election, indicated the great political importance attached by the government to legislation ostensibly aimed at bringing closure to five years of police investigations, settling differences between the victims and aggressors of the May 2000...

    • 11 Reflections on the economic and social policies of political parties at the 2006 general election
      (pp. 144-159)
      Biman Chand Prasad

      Political instability since 1987 has adversely affected Fiji’s economic growth, which averaged less than 3 per cent over the period 1980–2006. Fiji’s economic performance between 2001 and 2006, when the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) government was in power, was even more modest. While the SDL government pursued policies that promoted private-sector-led growth, these largely failed as a result of continued perceptions of political volatility and the inability of political parties to agree on a solution to the impasse over land leases. In addition, over the two years prior to the 2006 poll, further political uncertainty arose from the...

    • 12 Broken promises: women and the 2006 Fiji election
      (pp. 160-173)
      Rae Nicholl

      Prior to the 2006 election, the two major political parties specifically promised that there would be an increase in the number of female candidates. Yet, of the 338 candidates they selected, only 27 (8 per cent) were women.¹ This was a reduction of four compared with the 2001 election – and the same number that stood in 1999. How could there be so few women candidates when the parties had promised so much?

      Promises to women began in 1993, when the Fiji government ‘established a policy to increase women’s membership of boards, committees and councils by 30 to 50 per...

    • 13 The media and the spectre of the 2000 coup
      (pp. 174-184)
      Michael Field

      A green prison truck pulls into the crowded alleyway behind the old government buildings in downtown Suva. A handful of photographers and reporters try to catch a glimpse of a ghost riding in the back. George Speight. Almost exactly to the day six years before – 19 May 2000 – accompanied by special forces soldiers, he had charged on to the floor of parliament and seized Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his government. Although he now whiles away a pleasant, if dull, life on Nukulau as a convicted traitor, Speight’s before-election appearance – such as it was – had nothing...

  15. Case studies

    • 14 From marginalization to mainstream? Rotuma and the 2006 election
      (pp. 185-203)
      Kylie Jayne Anderson

      The Rotuma Communal seat is one of the ‘special’ privileges conferred on the Rotuman people by the Fiji constitution. Elections in 1999 and 2001 saw the seat contested by two candidates in each election. Marieta Rigamoto won on both occasions and was made a Minister in the Fiji government; however, in 2006, she chose not to stand for the seat, which was contested by five candidates (all male). The increase in candidate numbers as well as the recent attention given to Rotuma and the community in general by prominent political parties in the campaign have links to broader political issues...

    • 15 Tailevu North: five years down the line
      (pp. 204-212)
      Anare Tuitoga

      Tailevu North sprang to prominence in the 2001 election as the constituency from where the incarcerated coup leader, George Speight, was elected as an MP for the Conservative Alliance–Matanitu Vanua (CAMV). He survived only a short time as an MP, before being dismissed for missing three consecutive sittings of parliament. Yet his legacy lived on. Speight’s brother became MP for Tailevu North after a by-election in 2002. In the run-up to the 2006 polls, sympathies remained strong for the imprisoned coup leader and his family. The people of the Wainibuka region, as shown in this chapter, are bati (warriors)...

    • 16 Bose ni Vanua and democratic politics in Rewa
      (pp. 213-224)
      Baro Saumaki

      The most intense intra-Fijian struggle of the 2006 election occurred in Rewa, historically a dissident province in Fiji’s highly diversified political firmament. The contest was between independent candidate Ro Filipe Tuisawau and his aunt, Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) Education Minister Ro Teimumu Kepa. This was potentially a contest that defied party lines and threatened outcomes that diverged from broader national trends. The history of chiefly leadership in the province was important: following the death of Ro Lady Lala Mara, the wife of former president Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, her sister, Ro Teimumu Kepa, had succeeded to the highest title...

    • 17 Whatever happened to Western separatism?
      (pp. 225-242)
      Apolosi Bose and Jon Fraenkel

      Political parties hostile to the dominance of the eastern chiefly élite in national politics have regularly emerged in western Viti Levu.¹ Most have emphasized the economic centrality of the west as the source of most of the country’s sugar, gold, timber and tourism earnings.² Twice since independence, prime ministers from the west have been deposed by coups (Dr Timoci Bavadra in 1987 and Mahendra Chaudhry in 2000), fuelling western perceptions of regional injustice. The Party of National Unity (PANU) gained four seats at the 1999 poll and became part of the short-lived Labour-led People’s Coalition until the coup of 19...

    • 18 The ʹGeneralsʹ – where to now?
      (pp. 243-249)
      The Yellow Bucket Team

      The 2006 election resulted in fundamental change for the General voter² community in Fiji. For the first time, the ‘Generals’ party, the United Peoples Party (UPP) – with two of the three general communal seats – found itself forming the opposition. This was not entirely unfamiliar territory for party leader Mick Beddoes, as he had played the role of leader of the opposition for the opening period of the previous parliamentary session. However, on that occasion he was a party of one (albeit with support from New Labour Unity Party (NLUP) member Ofa Swann), the remaining general communal representatives –...

  16. Analysis

    • 19 Elections and nation-building: the long road since 1970
      (pp. 250-260)
      Robbie Robertson

      In Fiji it is communalism that has most given distinctive shape to politics and vice versa. When Fiji became independent in 1970, its freshly negotiated constitution endorsed a communal basis for voting. This was not surprising given that colonialism had divided the country ethnically, with each community isolated from the other geographically, economically, educationally and socially.¹ Industrial and political forms of organization – often closely related – also assumed ethnic characteristics. Indo-Fijian cane-farmer organizations easily transformed into political parties, the most notable being the Federation Party (formed in 1963) and the shorter-lived Indian Alliance (formed in 1966). Fijian organizations similarly...

    • 20 Indigenous title disputes: what they meant for the 2006 election
      (pp. 261-271)
      Morgan Tuimaleali’ifano

      The 2006 poll produced a mixed score-card for Fiji’s customary chiefs. On the one hand, finding a place for Fiji’s ruling dynasties at the centre of government remained a central concern for the re-elected Qarase government, not only because Fiji’s Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) holds the critical swing votes in the Senate, but also because the newly elected prime minister felt obliged to bring top title-holders from all three of the country’s confederacies into the post-election multiparty cabinet in order to guarantee ethnic Fijian support. On the other hand, as is shown in this chapter, chiefs have...

    • 21 Bipolar realignment under the alternative vote system: an analysis of the 2006 electoral data
      (pp. 272-287)
      Jon Fraenkel

      Fiji’s third election under the alternative vote (AV) system showed some startling developments, including a shift towards robust, single, rival political parties representing, on the one hand, the indigenous Fijians and, on the other, the Indians.

      This trend needs to be viewed over the longer term. At the first election after the introduction of the AV system, held in May 1999, two multi-ethnic coalitions emerged, and entered into deals with each other over the exchange of preference votes. The resulting government, led by the country’s first Indian prime minister, was overthrown in a coup a year later. At the second...

    • 22 Fijiʹs electoral boundaries and malapportionment
      (pp. 288-299)
      Kesaia Seniloli

      It has been claimed that demographic distribution and the drawing of constituency boundaries together had significant impacts on the outcomes of Fiji’s 1999, 2001 and 2006 elections. In part, this was due to constitutionally entrenched provisions by which Fiji’s parliament mainly comprises members from ‘communal’ constituencies – currently 23 for the ethnic Fijians, 19 for the Fiji Indians, three for the General voters and one for the island of Rotuma – and a number (since 1997, 25) of open constituencies, with the boundaries drawn in such a way that ‘voters should comprise a good proportion of members of different ethnic...

    • 23 The role of the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji in the 2006 elections
      (pp. 300-314)
      Lynda Newland

      Towards the end of the polling week of the 2006 election, the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji (ACCF) ran a full-page advertisement in the Fiji Times. On the right side of the page was a Christian cross, below which the Fiji flag flew over a map of Fiji. The text on the left side of the page ran:


      that we all please go ✓

      and vote during this election!


      It is God’s Will that the Laws of...

    • 24 The role of Hindu and Muslim organizations during the 2006 election
      (pp. 315-336)
      Jonathon Prasad

      On the walls of many Fiji Indian households, next to pictures of Hindu deities, hangs the photograph of Mahendra Chaudhry. Routinely garlanded whenever pujas (religious ceremonies) are performed, the image depicts a leader often cast in the role of saviour, deity and martyr. Transcending the realm of politics and entering into mythology, Chaudhry evokes the role of King Rama in the Ramcaritmanas, a popular Sanatan religious text; a good, just ruler banished from his kingdom and forced to wander in the wilderness enduring numerous trials at the hands of raksas (demons) until he is permitted to return home and take...

  17. Perspectives

    • 25 Fijiʹs system of elections and government: where to from here?
      (pp. 337-346)
      Laisenia Qarase

      Since my party’s victory in the May 2006 general election, I have concentrated my attention on the formation of the multiparty cabinet with the Fiji Labour Party (FLP), and on laying the groundwork to ensure the success of this new approach to the governance of Fiji.

      I am committed to ensuring that the multiparty cabinet with Labour will successfully take us through the next five years. This is not only because it is a requirement of the 1997 constitution. More importantly, it is because I believe it provides our country with an exceptional opportunity to start a new era of...

    • 26 Tainted elections
      (pp. 347-364)
      Mahendra Chaudhry

      It’s a bald question, but one that’s surely unavoidable after the combined experiences of 2001 and 2006: is it possible ever to hold free and fair elections in Fiji anymore?

      Since 2001, a culture of vote-buying, poll-rigging and manipulation has seeped into our electoral process and threatens to destroy the very foundations of our democratic traditions and undermine the integrity of our elections.

      The exact nature and extent of the behind-the-scenes manipulation to engineer the results of the 2006 polls are not fully known, but enough credible evidence is available to cast serious doubts on the integrity of the 2006...

    • 27 A view from the Electoral Commission
      (pp. 365-367)
      Graham Leung

      Whatever one’s views about the success or otherwise of Fiji’s 2006 general election, there seems to be a consensus that there is a need for a wide-ranging, thorough and critical examination of Fiji’s voting laws, not least of the country’s ‘alternative vote system’.

      Clearly, the Electoral Commission has a role to play in spearheading discussions aimed at developing bipartisan support for electoral reform. Some of the issues that emerged from the 2006 election are by no means new; they have been raised in the past by various observers. However, between general elections, very little appears to have been done to...

    • 28 Multiparty cabinet and power-sharing: lessons from elsewhere
      (pp. 368-378)
      Jon Fraenkel

      The ultimate outcome of Fiji’s 2006 election was paradoxical. In some respects, it was the most polarized election in Fiji’s history.² The two major parties, each with unanimous support from their respective ethnic communities, were able to divide up all the Fijian and Indian communal seats, as well as all the open seats.³ Yet, in the aftermath of the election, the formation of a multiparty cabinet represented a historically unprecedented effort at power-sharing between the leaders of Fiji’s two major communities.

      The idea that some kind of coming-together in cabinet of leaders representing Fiji’s different ethnic communities might provide some...

    • 29 Women and minority interests in Fijiʹs alternative vote electoral system
      (pp. 379-384)
      Suliana Siwatibau

      Candidates from ten different political parties and some 69 independent candidates contested the 2006 national election. Amongst the 336 candidates were some 32 women, three of whom were standing as independents. The large number of parties and independent candidates could be an indication of the people’s growing discontent with the policies of the two major parties and of their increasing confidence in political participation.

      Table 29.1 shows how the different parties performed. The National Alliance Party (NAP) is of interest as it is a new party contesting elections for the first time. It fielded the third largest number of candidates...

    • 30 The case for reform of the electoral system in Fiji
      (pp. 385-398)
      David G. Arms

      Since the time the alternative vote (AV) was first proposed for Fiji in the Reeves Commission’s report of 1996, there have been those (such as myself) who opposed it, regarding it as unsuitable to Fiji’s political circumstances. Ever since the first elections using AV were held in 1999, there have been calls for reform. A lot of the suggestions being made have to do with improving the AV system as currently designed for Fiji. However, there has also been a consistent call for complete abandonment of the AV system. Between 1999 and 2001 there was a strong push by some...

    • 31 An election retrospective
      (pp. 399-402)
      Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi

      The 2006 election confirmed the polarization in the country that has been extant for much of our voting history. The process has tended to ebb and flow at critical periods, with little sign of any sustained development towards integration. The inability of political parties promoting multiracialism and multiculturalism to make inroads was unsurprising. Six years after the events of 2000, divisions remain. Our respective communities continue to find security and support among their kind, and their attitudes are, in turn, reinforced by an electoral system that is ethnically based.

      The campaign itself was remarkable for its relative lack of invective,...

  18. Epilogue

    • Understanding Fijiʹs political paradox
      (pp. 403-419)
      Robert Norton

      The wide-ranging contributions to this volume on Fiji’s 2006 general election and its aftermath reflect some continuities in the country’s political history since the late colonial period. The land issue was central in the minds of Indo-Fijian farmers in the 1960s, when political party competition began, for many leases were being lost to the Fijian reserves. Indo-Fijians were at that time offered a choice between leaders who pushed strongly for radical constitutional changes and those who promised security and progress by working with conservative Fijian leaders. Perhaps in the formation of the post-2006 election multiparty cabinet we see a potential...

  19. Addendum

    • The Fiji coup of December 2006: who, what, where and why?
      (pp. 420-449)
      Jon Fraenkel

      The Fiji military’s ‘clean-up’ coup reached a climax on 5 December 2006. Although President Ratu Josefa Iloilo rubber-stamped the takeover that morning¹, he was swayed by Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi to disassociate himself from it in the afternoon. The official statement from Government House said that the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) had acted ‘contrary to the wishes of their Commander in Chief’, but conveyed the President’s intention to remain in office only to preserve some semblance of continuity.² That was not to be. Because the Prime Minister had declined to resign and the President equivocated, the illegality...

  20. Appendices

    • Appendix 1: Multiparty government in Fiji: a timeline, 1997–2006 Piccolo Willoughby
      (pp. 450-456)
    • Appendix 2: 2006 election results
      (pp. 457-475)
  21. Index
    (pp. 476-483)