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1987 Coup - Apr

The 1987 events (with their racial overtones) in the island-nation of Fiji, once the model state of regional stability, was the first coup ever in the South Pacific.

In April 1970, a constitutional conference in London agreed that Fiji should become a fully sovereign and independent nation within the Commonwealth. Fiji became independent on October 10, 1970. Post-independence politics came to be dominated by the Alliance Party of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. The Indian-led opposition won a majority of House seats in 1977, but failed to form a government out of concern that indigenous Fijians would not accept Indo-Fijian leadership. In April 1987, a coalition led by Dr. Timoci Bavadra, an ethnic Fijian supported by the Indo-Fijian community, won the general election and formed Fiji's first majority Indian government, with Dr. Bavadra serving as Prime Minister. Less than a month later, Dr. Bavadra was forcibly removed from power during a military coup led by Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka on May 14, 1987.

A close election in April 1987 turned out the Mara government The NFP-Labour Coalition won with a four-seat majority. Fijian communal seats went to the Alliance and Indian seats to the Coalition, according to traditional racial patterns, but the outcome of the election hinged on the four national seats in Suva and in the southeast, which previously had been won by the Alliance. This time they went to the Coalition by a small margin, tipping the balance in favor of the Coalition. Analysis of the votes shows that the Alliance received 49 percent of total votes cast, while the Coalition received only 47 percent but won the election. The Alliance piled up a high percentage in the national constituencies that it won, but it lost by small margins in the 16 national constituencies taken by the Coalition."' The Fijian Nationalist Party-the party that contributed to the 1977 Alliance defeat-took away almost 2500 votes that might have gone to the Alliance. Some Fijians, however, could not accept an Indian-dominated government. Agitation against the new government began as soon as it took office. Meetings in Suva and elsewhere called for constitutional changes that would guarantee Fijian control. In some areas, disgruntled Fijians set up roadblocks and demonstrated. On April 24, approximately 5000 Fijians marched in Suva and presented the governor general with a petition signed by 23,000 calling for guaranteed Fijian control of the government. FNP leader Butadroka urged Fijians to fight for the right to rule their country. Governor General Ganilau, the Queen's representative, called on the people to respect the government and warned of repression and violence. In early May demonstrations took a violent turn when Molotov cocktails caused fires at Reddy's law office and at some Indian shops in Lautoka, Fiji's second city. An Alliance senator was later charged with arson for these incidents. The political success of the Indian-backed party soon led to the emergence of an ethnic Fijian group, the Taukei Movement (taukei meaning a native of Fiji, or man of the soil) formed to protect Fijian interests, which members believed to be endangered by the new government. Not allied with either the Alliance or the FNP, the Taukei Movement attracted members of both parties, as well as members of the Council of Chiefs. It also attracted Fijians who advocated violent means to return power to a Fijian-dominated government, but its members are split on the question of violence. The Taukei movement was not a temporary aberration or an outlet for extremist violence. Members include such prominent politicians as Apisai Tora, Filipe Bole, a former foreign minister, Ratu Meli Vesikula, later the Fijian affairs minister in the military government; several senators; academics, including Dr. Asesela Ravuvu and Malakai Tawake of the USP; Ratu Inoke Kubuabola of the Bible Society of the Pacific; and Viliane Saukekolea, president of the Fiji Teachers Association. On 14 May 1987, one month after installation of the new government, Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka led 12 armed troops wearing gas masks into the parliament without notice, arrested leading members of the new government, and assumed power. He declared that he intent was to prevent bloodshed, both Indian and Fijian. Indeed, upon execution of the coup, the Taukei called off its plans for mounting violence. Rabuka called on Governor General Ganilau to take the reins of government. Ganilau, seeking to uphold law, order, the constitution, and ties with the British Crown, refused to commission the coup perpetrators as government leaders. He invoked his executive powers under the constitution and five days after the coup set up an 18-man council of ministers to govern the country. He also gave orders to dissolve parliament, to send the troops back to the barracks, to release the imprisoned government officials, and to lift press censorship. His aim was to restore a legal government and retain Fiji's ties with the Crown and Commonwealth. After winning support from the Council of Chiefs, he appointed a committee of 11 Fijians, four Indians, and two Europeans to conduct a constitutional review.

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