Fiji - Political Parties
Even though Fijians have formed different political parties over the years, a major factor and common, uniting thread in this process was the shared experience of Fijians through colonisation, i.e., the threat of being politically marginalised by new immigrants in their native land. Major Fijian political parties that have formed to promote and defend the supremacy of Fijian rights in Fiji include the Fiji Independent Party (FIP), the Fijian Nationalist Party (FNP), the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) Party and the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) Party.
The first political party in Fiji history was the Fijian Association. Founded in 1954 by Ratu Sukuna, its aims were to support the existing Fijian administration against pressures for reform. After the 1963 elections a group of students that had returned from Britain—including Ratu Kamisese Mara—transformed the association into a more modern party having specialized agencies, well-organized branches, and a mass appeal to the voters. Before and during the constitutional conference held in London in 1965, Mara forged relations with representatives of other ethnic groups—in particular, the Europeans and Part Europeans.
In March 1966 the Fijian Association became the senior member of the new Alliance Party, which included the Indian-run National Congress of Fiji (later the Indian Alliance) and the General Electors' Association. The Alliance Party led the country to independence and formed governments since then under the leadership of Mara, who came to be known officially as Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Since the military coups of 1987 and the demise of the AP, parties that emerged to fill the vacuum, such as the SVT in 1991 and the SDL since 2001, have introduced platforms that appear to capture the interest of Fijian voters first and foremost.
The well-organized and activist National Federation Party (NFP) emerged in 1964 out of the most militant of the sugarcane workers' unions. One analyst has concluded that the NFP won over the support of the orthodox Hindus and Muslims in these early years, while the reformists from both groups joined the Alliance Party. Whatever the case, the NFP became the party of the Indian community, advocating the abolition of the Communal Roll and increased Indian influence in the government. Allegations that the party founder's immediate successor, Siddique Koya, was cooperating too readily with Mara's government split the NFP into two factions in 1977. In 1979, however, the party reunited under the leadership of Jai Ram Reddy, who was the opposition leader in 1984.
A small but highly controversial force in Fiji politics was the Fijian Nationalist Party. Formed by Sakeasi Butadroka, who was expelled from the Alliance Party in 1972, the party's slogan was "Fiji for the Fijians." In 1975 Butadroka went so far as to introduce a bill in parliament that would have forced all of the Indians to leave Fiji. The reaction to the inflammatory bill was predictably condemnatory, but the party captured a sizable portion of the Fijian electorate in the first of two poils in 1977.
A new political party called the Western United Front (WUF) appeared on the scene in 1981. Created by a previously independent Fijian member of parliament, Ratu Osea Cavidi, the WUF represented the interests of a group of Fijian mataqali in the western part of Viti Levu that opposed certain provisions of the government pine forest scheme.
The Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT), occasionally known in English as Fijian Political Party, was a party which dominated politics in the 1990s. The SVT Party was formed with the sanction of the ‘Bose Levu Vakaturaga’ or Council of Chiefs after the 1987 military coups and the promulgation of the 1990 Constitution. Its aim was to replace the Fijian Association arm of the AP as the mainstream Fijian political party.
The SVT was set up for indigenous Fijians in 1991 and was the ruling party for most of the decade until 1999. The SVT won the 1992 elections and formed a government with the support of the Fiji Labour Party. By 2003 the Fijian Political Party, the SVT, was rebranding itself and changing its constitution to allow people of all races to join as members. This followed the unanimous re-election of longtime former SVT leader, Sitiveni Rabuka, as its new president. Rabuka said they need general reconciliation to bring out the best in Fiji and the party is gearing to embrace a policy that will stand for one nation of many people. Rabuka said it was time for a change after many of the SVT's indigenous supporters and chiefs have left the party. He said chiefs are no longer the party's priority, with their place now taken by the commoners.
The Veitokani ni Lewenivanu Vakarisito Party (VLV) was formed in direct opposition to the SVT and projected a strong Christian outlook, translating its name as the Christian Democratic Alliance (CDA). The newly formed party had very clear and close links with the Methodist Church, with one of its former presidents, Rev Manasa Lasaro, a strong advocate of Rabuka’s Sunday Observance Decree, announcing his candidature for the party. The VLP saw itself as a potential power broker in the shifting fortunes of political parties as it remained detached from the politics of Coalition. Chaudhry, on the other hand, indicated an interest in reaching out to the VLP, as he declared: ‘We have not thought of joining them yet but if we do, we should have some common grounds for a coalition.’
The VLP had begun to attract some big Fijian names: Ratu Epeli Ganilau, the former military commander, son of the late President Ratu Penaia Ganilau, and son-in-law of Ratu Mara, declared his intention to run for the newly-formed party. He was followed by Poseci Bune, the former Ambassador to the United Nations, who warned that the VLP had been formed to ‘bring an end to the degradation and decay taking place in our country today under a corrupt [Rabuka] Government’. As the election campaign heated up, the VLP could boast a strong line-up of former SVT supporters and ex-senior civil servants. There were some surprise inclusions, notably that of Asesela Ravuvu, now the Chairman of the Constitution Review Commission (CRW).
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