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Fiji - Politics

Post-independence politics in Fiji has been dominated by racial and ethnic issues, including intra- and inter-ethnic rivalries for political power and influence. In particular, a failure to resolve tensions between the native Melanesian Fijians and the Indian Fijians has dominated the countrys political landscape, resulting in four destabilising military coups since 1970.

The major interest groupsincluding labor unions, business organizations, religious bodies, and educational organizations generally divided along ethnic lines. Labor groups were perhaps less segmented into ethnic components than other groups, but individual unions within the two multiethnic labor federations were often predominantly Fijian or Indian in membership. Separate religious organizations within the Muslim and Hindu communities represented conservative and orthodox opinions on language, education, and public morality.

For the first 17 years after independence, Fiji was a parliamentary democracy. During that time, political life was dominated by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and the Alliance Party, which combined the traditional Fijian chiefly system with leading elements of the European, part-European, and Indian communities. The main parliamentary opposition, the National Federation Party, represented mainly rural Indo-Fijians. In 1963 the two political parties were born: the Alliance Party, a multiracial but predominantly Fijian organization headed by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, and the Federation Party, also multiethnic in appeal but dominated by the Indian community.

The intense fighting between the two major political parties over the issue of voting procedures gradually cooled. In April 1970 another constitutional conference was held in London. The conference endorsed the complex procedures in use as the best means of selecting a proposed House of Representatives. After drafting the Constitution and approving its implementation without further election, the conference agreed that Fiji would become independent on October 10, 1970. In January 1973, a year after the first parliamentary elections held under the Constitution returned the Alliance Party to power, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, great-grandson of the chief who had sworn allegiance to Queen Victoria, replaced the colonial holdover as governor general.

Among Protestant Christian denominations, Methodists have been the most successful, building on the achievements of the early missionaries. They made up over 70 percent of the Christian community in the 1970s; nearly all were Fijian. Some 80 percent of the Indians identified themselves as Hindu.

The interest groups that vied for a voice in public policy were organized primarily along ethnic lines and channeled their influence through political parties similarly divided. In general, all parties seemed to agree on a democratic and free-market approach to the political and economic development of Fiji. The Indian community, however, felt that the constitutional system had impeded the full representation of its interests and aspirations.

The 1972 election resulted in 63 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives going to the Alliance Party and the rest to the opposition NFP. In the March and April elections of 1977, the NFP took 50 percent of the seats after the upstart Fijian National Party siphoned one-fourth of the Fijian vote from the Alliance Party. The NFP, however, was unable to form a government because it split into two factions, and a new election was held in September. Prime Minister Mara's party made a remarkable recovery, aided in part by Butadroka's confinement for violations of the law. The Alliance Party won 62 percent of the seats.

The July 1982 elections were much more closely contended than those in late 1977, and the campaign was marred by acrimonious allegations of foreign involvement on behalf of both major parties. The voter turnout was a record 86 percent, and the voting was almost entirely along ethnic lines. The Alliance Party took all 12 of the Fijian communal seats, capturing 86 percent of the vote, while the NFP won all 12 Indian seats with 84 percent of the vote. The Alliance Party took all the national seats in the election districts having a Fijian majority and two seats in districts having only narrow Indian majorities.

Intercommunal relations were managed without serious confrontation. However, when a cabinet with substantial ethnic Indian representation was installed after the April 1987 election, extremist elements played on ethnic Fijian fears of domination by the Indo-Fijian community, resulting in a military coup d'etat. A group of nationalists, the Taukei, reacted to the election by stirring up indigenous concerns of impending Indian domination. The radical iTaukei political activists, backed by some iTaukei chiefs and some Methodist Church talatalas (ministers) and their congregations, took to the streets with racist slogans aimed at the Indo-Fijian community prior to the coup.

A month of violent protests resulted in a bloodless military coup on 14 May 1987, led by Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) Sitiveni Rabuka. This began what many now refer to as the "coup cycle." After further nationalist discontent, Rabuka staged a second 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 abrogation of Fiji's 1997 Constitution by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo Uluivuda and the reinstatement of Fiji's military-led interim government (IG) was the denouement of a series of IG blunders that has compounded the serious racial and economic problems already confronting ethnic and Indo-Fijians.

Commodore Voreque (Frank) Bainimarama came to power in a military coup on 05 December 2006 by deposing the elected government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. This was Fijis fourth coup since it gained independence from Britain in 1970. On 4 January 2007, Commodore Bainimarama reinstated Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda (Josefa Iloilo) as President of Fiji. President Iloilo endorsed the military regime and appointed Bainimarama as interim Prime Minister on 5 January 2007. In April 2009, the interim regime (with President Iloilos support) abrogated the Fijian Constitution of 1997 and postponed democratic elections until September 2014. This crisis in Fiji was the second phase of Bainimaramas December 2006 coup.

New Constitution - 06 September 2013

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. In 2013 the government published the Political Parties Registration Decree. The decree canceled the registration of all 20 registered political parties and required that parties submit applications, which must include 5,000 member signatures, for registration. Only three of the 20 existing parties, two independent candidates, and four newly formed parties were able to comply with these requirements and register successfully. The law allows political parties to be deregistered for any election offense and mandates trade union leaders must quit their positions before running as candidates, a provision that applied to several opposition party leaders during the year.

The Electoral Decree restricts any person, entity, or organization receiving funding from foreign governments, intergovernmental or NGOs, or multilateral agencies from conducting or participating in any campaigns, including meetings, debates, panel discussions, interviews, publishing materials, or any public forum discussing the elections. Convictions for violations of the decree incur up to 10 years in prison, a F$50,000 ($24,400) fine, or both. The decree allows universities to hold panel discussions and organize inclusive public forums.

On 17 September 2014, voters elected 50 members of parliament. The general election, the first under the 2013 constitution, was won by the FijiFirst Party with 59 per cent of votes (32 seats); turnout was 84 percent. The Social Democratic Liberal Party secured 28 percent of votes (15 seats); the National Federation Party 5 per cent (three seats); the Peoples Democratic Party 3 percent (no seats) and the FLP 2 percent (no seats).

With the Fiji First Party winning 32 seats and an outright majority, Bainimarama was sworn in as prime minister on September 22. Parliaments first sitting since 2006 took place in October. Observers deemed parliamentary elections held September 17 to be generally credible and broadly reflected the will of the Fijian people.

On 03 June 2016, female opposition parliamentarian Tupou Draunidalo was suspended from parliament for calling a government minister a fool while responding to comments about opposition members of parliament. Under the terms of the suspension, Draunidalo would not be able to sit in parliament for the remainder of her two-year term. On September 29, male opposition parliamentarian Ratu Isoa Tikoca was similarly sanctioned for the remainder of his two-year term for comments he made on July 6, listing Muslim officials serving in high government office.

The Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) said 27 April 2017 it was concerned that recent statements by the Methodist Church could provoke the re-emergence of racial issues, ethnic tension and instability. This was the first time that the RFMF had issued a statement over debate on a political issue since the return to elected government. Chief of Staff Colonel Ratu Jone Kalouniwai, elaborating on the statement, said this was because the church had an influence in the political events from 1987 to 2006. The RFMF statement said: The RFMF, given its constitutional role to ensure the safety, security and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians, is concerned that a prominent religious organisation such as the Methodist Church of Fiji is vocalising the supposed marginalisation and agitation of the iTaukei in its five-point submission. These we strongly feel have the potential to influence and breed suspicion, distrust, heightening ethnic tensions and potentially lead to conflict.

The RFMF had referred to statements by the Methodist Church of Fiji highlighting its five-point submission that includes the call for a Christian state, reinstatement of the Great Council of Chiefs and a review of indigenous rights issues.

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