In 1970 Fiji gained its independence as a member of the British Commonwealth and Ratu Sir Kimisese Mara was elected as
prime minister. It should be noted that Fiji's population was divided about equally between native ethnic Fijians and
ethnic Indians. However in 1977 a government could not be formed from fear that ethnic Fijians would not approve of the
Indo-Fijian government. Fiji got its first Indian-led government in 1987 when Dr. Timoci Bavadra won the general election.
Only one month later Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, an ethnic Fijian, staged a military coup in 1987 and took power from the
democratically ethnic Indian government. Fiji was declared a republic and created a new constitution that gave ethnic
Fijians a disproportionate share of power in the new government. The coup drew protests from India's government, led to
Fiji being expelled from the Commonwealth and the new government was officially "unrecognized" by many states, including New
Zealand and Australia. Rabuka was elected prime minister in 1992, and Mara was appointed president in 1994. Many Indians
fled the country following the coup, and the government released statistics showing that ethnic Fijians were the majority
population for the first time since 1946.
In 1997 the constitution was amended to give non-ethnic Fijians a more equal role in government (although the presidency
was reserved for ethnic Fijians), it was also readmitted to the Commonwealth, and in 1999 Mahendra Chaudhry, an ethnic
Indian, was elected prime minister, replacing Rabuka. One year later, in 2000, Fijian nationalist George Speight
launched a coup and took Chaudhry hostage, demanding an end to Indian participation in Fijian politics. As a result of the
ensuing crisis, the military took power and President Mara was forced to resign. The army appointed an ethnic Fijian-
dominated government led by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and Ratu Josefa Iloilo as president. Spreight released his
hostages soon after and demanded a powerful role in government but was arrested, put on trial for treason, and sentenced to
life in prison. However this did not mean a complete end to the crisis, as Qarase's government was ruled illegal by the
courts. New parliamentary elections were held in 2001 and Qarase became prime minister again. But the new government was
ruled unconstitutional because it did not include members of the Indian-dominated opposition Labour Party, although Labour
refused to join the new government because Chaudhry was excluded. The conflicts left the already divided nation even more
divided and at odds with deep ethnic divisions and informal segregation.
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