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Islands of Turmoil

Islands of Turmoil: Elections and Politics in Fiji

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Islands of Turmoil
    Book Description:

    “It is not so much whether things are not as bad as they ought to be or could have been. It is, rather, whether things could have been much better”. By rights, the island nation of Fiji should be thriving. It is easily the most developed country in the South Pacific; it is a hub for regional transportation and communication links, the home of international diplomatic, educational and aid organisations, with a talented multiethnic population. Yet, since its independence it has suffered two military coups in 1987 and an attempted putsch in 2000, resulting in strained institutions, and disrupted improvements to essential infrastructure, and to educational, social and medical services.

    eISBN: 978-1-920942-75-5
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. viii-xiii)
  5. 1 The road to independence 1874–1970
    (pp. 1-23)

    Some basic facts first. Fiji Islands, covering some 1.3 million kilometres of the South Pacific Ocean, lie between the longitudes of 175 and 178 west and the latitudes of 15 and 22 south. Most of Fiji’s population lives on the two major islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Its total population of 772,655 (1996 census) comprises 394,999 Fijians (51.1 per cent) and 336,579 Indo-Fijians (43.6 per cent), with the remaining 41,077 coming from other ethnic groups (5.3 per cent). Nearly half of the population now lives in urban or peri-urban areas, a significant increase over the previous decade when...

  6. 2 Continuity and change 1970–87
    (pp. 24-48)

    On the surface, calm and goodwill characterised race relations and political life in the post-independence years. Development proceeded apace as new jetties, wharves and roads were built; modern amenities such as electricity, piped water and paved roads reached remote villages in the islands. More and more people of all ethnic groups and social backgrounds streamed towards cities and urban centres in search of employment or better education for their children. Elections were held periodically; the sanctity of the ballot box was respected (partly, as it turned out, because one party was regularly returned to power and because the status quo...

  7. 3 Things fall apart
    (pp. 49-76)

    On 7 April 1987, Fiji held its fifth general election since attaining independence. After a long three-month campaign and a week’s polling, the newly formed Fiji Labour Party-National Federation Party Coalition won a convincing and historic victory over the long-reigning Alliance party, capturing 28 of the 52 seats in the Fiji parliament. Dr Timoci Bavadra, the new prime minister, assumed power with quiet dignity but unmistakable firmness, and quickly set in motion a government intent on delivering early on its various election pledges. Bitterly disappointed with the unexpected results of the election, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the Alliance leader, conceded...

  8. 4 Back from the abyss 1992
    (pp. 77-99)

    Fiji’s 1992 election was an important and welcome development, marking Fiji’s first tentative steps toward restoring parliamentary democracy and international respectability, and replacing rule by decree with rule by constitutional law. The elections were held under a constitution rejected by half the population and severely criticised by the international community for its racially discriminatory, anti-democratic provisions. Indigenous political solidarity, assiduously promoted since the coups, disintegrated in the face of election-related tensions. A chief-sponsored political party won 30 of the 37 Fijian seats in the 70-seat House of Representatives, and was able to form a government only in coalition with other...

  9. 5 Rabuka’s republic
    (pp. 100-125)

    In February 1994, only 18 months after the first post-coup elections of 1992, Fiji went to the polls again. The snap election was called after the defeat of the government’s budget in November 1993. Sitiveni Rabuka’s opponents on the government benches hoped to use the election to oust him from office. They had miscalculated. Rabuka and his party, the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT), returned to power with 32 of the 37 seats reserved for ethnic Fijians under the 1990 constitution. A coalition government was formed with the General Voters Party (GVP), which won four of the five seats...

  10. 6 Charting a new course
    (pp. 126-154)

    The 1990 constitution, decreed into existence by President Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau five years after the military coups of 1987, was assumed by its architects to be a temporary solution to a troubled situation. Section 161 provided for its review within seven years, that is, before 25 July 1997. The constitution was undeniably a contested document provoking deep emotions and often diametrically opposed responses. The Indo-Fijian community rejected it, and made its repeal, or at least an impartial review, the central plank in their election campaigns in 1992 and 1994. Equally, on the Fijian side, there was fervent support for...

  11. 7 A time to change
    (pp. 155-184)

    The 1990s was a decade of unexpected political change in Fiji, confounding conventional wisdom about power sharing arrangements in that troubled country. For the sheer momentum and unpredictability of events, it rivalled the 1960s, Fiji’s decade of decolonisation—a time of industrial strikes where violence was threatened, keenly contested elections and by-elections, and tense conferences about which constitutional systems suited Fiji’s multiethnic society. The 1990s, too, Fiji’s decade of progressive political democratisation, had its tension and turbulence, false starts and extended detours as its people grappled with the unsettling aftermath of the coups and struggled to devise a constitutional order...

  12. 8 George Speight’s coup
    (pp. 185-205)

    Around 10am on 19 May 2000, seven armed gunmen, led by George Speight, stormed the Fiji parliament taking Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his ill-fated government hostage. May 19 marked the government’s first anniversary in office. The seizure of parliament followed a series of protest marches by a variety of aggrieved Fijian nationalist groups and defeated politicians opposed to the People’s Coalition government and committed to its overthrow. Still, the hostage crisis seemed improbable. Speight, a part-Fijian failed businessmen, due to be arraigned in court on a bankruptcy charge, was a little-known player on the local scene. And, unlike 1987,...

  13. 9 In George Speight’s shadow
    (pp. 206-231)

    On 25 August 2001, Fiji once again went to the polls, under the 1997 multiracial constitution that George Speight and the Fiji military forces had declared abrogated, but which had been upheld by the High Court and subsequently by the Fiji Court of Appeal. The holding of the elections was a significant achievement in the circumstances. Nonetheless, instead of resolving the country’s political difficulties and healing wounds, it ended up polarising ethnic relations even further, embroiling major political parties in an acrimonious debate about power sharing mandated by the constitution.

    A record twenty-six, mostly indigenous Fijian, political parties registered to...

  14. 10 Reflections
    (pp. 232-250)

    Fiji is a paradox and a pity. A paradox because this island nation endowed with wonderful natural resources, a talented and multiethnic population with a high literacy rate, a once-sophisticated, but now crumbling, public infrastructure where drinkable piped water was once guaranteed, public roads had few potholes, poverty and crime and squatters were visible but contained, hospitals were uncrowded, children went cheerfully to school, and respect for law and order was assured: this nation is tragically prone to self-inflicted wounds with crippling consequences. One coup is bad enough for any country, but three in thirteen years—two in 1987 and...

  15. 11 Postscript
    (pp. 251-264)

    Fiji went to the polls in mid May 2006, the tenth time since independence in 1970. In what was widely expected to be a contest marred by internal political fragmentation among indigenous Fijians and a surge of independents—18 political parties were registered on the eve of the elections and an unprecedented 68 independents contested—the elections delivered a result that defied most predictions. The ruling Soqosoqo Duavata Lewenivanua (SDL) party won 36 seats of the 71 seats in the House of Representatives, a clear win over rival Fijian parties. The Fiji Labour Party won 31 seats, its appeal far...

  16. References
    (pp. 265-271)
  17. Index
    (pp. 272-282)