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Fiji - Government

Fiji achieved independence as a Realm within the Commonwealth on 10 October 1970 and enjoyed political stability until the election of April 1987 when Fiji's first Indo-Fijian dominated coalition was elected. Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) Sitiveni Rabuka. After further nationalist discontent, Rabuka staged a coup on 25 September 1987, revoked the existing Constitution (of 1970) and declared Fiji a republic. As a result, in October 1987, Fiji left the Commonwealth. The position taken by Commonwealth leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Vancouver in 1987 was that Fijis adoption of republican status in October meant that its Commonwealth membership had 'lapsed'.

Major General Rabuka was appointed Prime Minister in the 1992 election, which was held under a new Constitution (1990). The 1990 Constitution was replaced in 1997. Fijis constitution reflected the multiracial nature of its society. It provided for a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament comprising an elected House of Representatives and appointed Senate. Some seats in the House of Representatives were reserved for ethnic Fijians, some for Indo-Fijians and some for other ethnic groups.

Under the 1997 constitution, 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 in the following proportions: ethnic Fijians 23; Indo-Fijians 19; other ethnic groups three; and Rotuman Islanders one. The Senate had 32 members, 14 appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs, nine by the Prime Minister, eight by the Leader of the Opposition and one by the Council of Rotuma. The prime ministership, but not the presidency, was opened to all Fijians. In addition, the first-past-the-post electoral system was replaced by an alternative preference system and voting became mandatory. Parties taking more than ten percent of the votes in a general election had the right to a number of cabinet posts in proportion to the numbers of votes received.

The 1997 Constitution guaranteed indigenous Fijian dominance in the most senior government and administrative positions, but also called for a review of Fiji's constitutional arrangements before mid-1997. The Constitutional Review Commission was established in 1995 under the chairmanship of Sir Paul Reeves, a former Governor General of New Zealand. The Reeves' Commission recommendations were considered by a multi-party Joint Parliamentary Select Committee (JPSC), which, in April 1997, reached agreement on a number of core issues, including the principle of a multi-racial Cabinet.

Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth in October 1997 following the introduction of a new Constitution which brought Fiji back in line with Commonwealth principles. Rabuka also made a formal apology to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. The agreed recommendations came into effect as constitutional amendments on 27 July 1998, creating a newly named 'Republic of the Fiji Islands'. Elections under the new Constitution, held in May 1999, produced a surprise landslide victory for a coalition dominated by the, predominantly Indo-Fijian, Fiji Labour Party (FLP). The FLP's leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, became Fiji's first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister.

The 1997 constitution provided for a ceremonial president selected by the Great Council of Chiefs and an elected prime minister and parliament. However, in 2006 the armed forces commander, Commodore Voreqe Frank Bainimarama, overthrew the elected government in a bloodless coup d'etat. In January 2007 the interim military government was replaced by a nominally civilian interim government (the "interim government") headed by Bainimarama as prime minister.

After the Court of Appeal declared the December 2006 coup and the interim government appointed in January 2007 unlawful, the 1997 constitution was abrogated and a state of emergency imposed on April 10, 2009. Bainimarama and his government established rule by decree after the abrogation. The constitutional Bill of Rights has not been revived, and despite the revival of the Fiji Human Rights Commission (FHRC) by decree, the FHRC is prohibited from investigating the abrogation of the constitution and the actions of the de facto government and security forces. Bainimarama and his Military Council control the security forces.

After the abrogation of the constitution by President Iloilo on April 10, 2009, he signed decrees re-establishing the judiciary and his own position as President. Iloilo resigned in July 2009 and a new President was appointed by the interim cabinet. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, former RFMF commander, diplomat, and Speaker of the House of Representatives (2001-2006) was appointed President by the interim cabinet. The decree provides that the Chief Justice is to act in place of the President in his absence, and no vice president has been appointed.

Fiji maintains a judiciary consisting of a Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, a High Court, and Magistrate Courts. Since the 2006 coup, a number of High Court and Court of Appeal justices have resigned, claiming interference in judicial affairs. After the abrogation of the constitution on April 10, 2009, all sitting judges and magistrates were terminated and some were reappointed to a new judiciary re-established by decree in May 2009. The Fiji Government has also drawn new judges and magistrates from Sri Lanka. All cases challenging the actions of the interim government since December 2006, its decrees, and the coup itself were dissolved by decree, which prohibits the judiciary from hearing challenges to the actions of the government since April 2009, the 2006 coup, and the abrogation of the constitution in April 2009.

There are four administrative divisions--central, eastern, northern, and western--each under the charge of a divisional commissioner, all of whom are senior military officers. Ethnic Fijians have their own administration in which councils preside over a hierarchy of provinces, districts, and villages. The 14 provincial councils deal with all matters affecting ethnic Fijians. There is also a Rotuma Island Council for the island of Rotuma.

A new constitution was promulgated on 6 September 2013. It includes a bill of rights and provides for a single-chamber legislature, Parliament, with 50 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a term of no more than four years from its first session. All Fijian citizens from the age of 18 are entitled to vote in a single national constituency and under a system of proportional representation. Parliament elects a non-executive President from a field of two candidates, one nominated by the Prime Minister and one by the Leader of the Opposition. The presidential term is three years and a President can serve no more than two terms. After an election, the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament becomes Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is head of government.

The 2013 constitution established a secular state and protects freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. It also mandates the separation of church and state. The constitution provides for freedom of expression, speech, thought, opinion, and publication, but it grants the government authority to restrict these rights for a broad array of reasons. These include preventing hate speech and insurrection; maintaining national security, public order, public safety, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections; protecting the reputation, privacy, dignity, and rights of other persons; and enforcing media standards and regulating the conduct of media organizations.

The constitution provides for the right to form and join political parties, to campaign for political parties or a cause, to register as a voter, to vote by secret ballot in elections or referendums, to run for public office, and to hold that office. These rights are limited, however, to allow the government to prescribe eligibility requirements for voters, candidates, political party officials, and holders of public office.

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