Politics of Fiji

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This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Fiji
Constitution
Judiciary

Politics of Fiji take place within the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic. Fiji has a multiparty system with the prime minister of Fiji as head of government. The executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Parliament of Fiji.

The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Constitutional structure[edit]

Executive branch[edit]

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Epeli Nailatikau Independent 30 July 2009 until 4 November 2009 (acting). Sworn in 5 November 2009.
Vice-president Vacant 5 December 2006.
Prime minister Frank Bainimarama Military 5 January 2007.

Fiji's head of State is the president. He is elected by the Great Council of Chiefs, after consulting with the prime minister, for a five-year term. Although his role is largely an honorary one, modelled after that of the British monarchy, the president has certain "reserve powers" that may be used in the event of a national crisis. In practice, attempts by the president to assert the reserve powers have proved problematic. In 2000, in the midst of a civilian coup d'État against the elected government, president Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara announced on 27 May that he was assuming executive authority, but was evidently forced to resign two days later by the military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

The president is also the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.

Actual executive power is in the hands of the cabinet, presided over by the prime minister. The prime minister is formally appointed by the president, but must be acceptable to a majority of the House of Representatives. In practice, this usually reduces the president's role to little more than a formality, with the position automatically going to the leader of the political party or coalition that controls a majority of seats.

There have been times, however, when there has been no clear majority in the House of Representatives. The parliamentary election of 1992 was inconclusive, and the position of the largest party, the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei, was further undermined by subsequent defections. On such occasions, the President takes on the role of an arbitrator. After consulting with all the parliamentary factions, he appoints as prime minister the person he judges to be the most acceptable to the majority in the House of Representatives. If no such person can be found, the President is required to order a new election.

Another situation requiring presidential intervention arose following the 1999 election. The People's Coalition won a landslide victory; with the largest party in the coalition, the Fiji Labour Party, winning a majority in its own right. Some of the smaller parties in the coalition expressed unease at the prospect of Mahendra Chaudhry, the Labour Party leader and an Indo-Fijian, becoming prime minister, saying that he would be unacceptable to indigenous Fijian voters that they represented. President Mara, however, persuaded them to accept Chaudhry as prime minister.

The cabinet, consisting of around ten to twenty five ministers, is formally appointed by the president on the nomination of the prime minister. According to the constitution, the cabinet is supposed to reflect the political composition of the House of Representatives, with every party holding more than 8 seats in the House entitled to proportionate representation in the cabinet. In practice, this rule has never been strictly implemented. In 1999, Chaudhry refused to give ministerial posts to the Fijian Political Party, saying that its demands were unacceptable. From 2001 to 2004, prime minister Laisenia Qarase, whose coalition dominated by his Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua had narrowly won the 2001 election, refused to include the Fiji Labour Party in his cabinet, and avoided implementing several subsequent Supreme Court verdicts ordering him to do so by appealing each successive verdict, until the Labour Party announced late in 2004 that it was no longer interested in joining the cabinet.

Legislative branch[edit]

Fiji's Parliament consists of two houses. The more powerful of the two chambers, the House of Representatives, has 71 members, elected for five-year terms. 25 are elected by universal suffrage. The remaining 46 are reserved for Fiji's ethnic communities and are elected from communal electoral rolls: 23 Fijians, 19 Indo-Fijians, 1 Rotuman, and 3 "general electors" (Europeans, Chinese, and other minorities). The House chooses a Speaker, who is not allowed to be a present member of the House.

The "upper chamber", the Senate, is primarily a house of review: it may not initiate legislation, but may amend or reject it. The 32 senators are formally appointed by the president on the nomination of the Great Council of Chiefs (14), the prime minister (9), the Leader of the Opposition (8), and the Council of Rotuma (1). Senators as well as Representatives may serve as cabinet ministers.

The attorney-general, Fiji's top legal official who sits in the cabinet, is the only member of Parliament permitted to attend sessions of both chambers. The attorney-general has voting rights only in the chamber to which he or she was elected or appointed, but is authorized to attend and participate in debates in the other chamber.

Judicial branch[edit]

Fiji maintains an independent judiciary, with judicial power vested in three courts (the High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court) established by the Constitution, which also makes provision for other courts to be set up by Parliament; Magistrates' Courts have accordingly been set up. The High Court and the Supreme Court are both presided over by the Chief Justice (currently Daniel Fatiaki); the Chief Justice is barred, however, from membership of the Court of Appeal, which has its own president (currently Gordon Ward). The Appeal Court, which did not exist prior to the 1997 Constitution, has the power "to hear and determine appeals" from judgements of the High Court; decisions of this court may be further appealed to the Supreme Court, whose decision is final. The judiciary managed to maintain its independence from political control in the aftermath of the coups of 1987. Following the 2000 coup, however, its integrity was compromised, in the eye of many, when three judges (including Fatiaki) advised then-president Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to abrogate the constitution. Mara refused and resigned; a military administration replaced him. Then Chief Justice recognized the military government, triggering widespread disappointment to those who had seen the judiciary as a model of independence. On 15 November 2000, however, the High Court forced the reinstatement of the 1997 Constitution, which had been abrogated in June following the forced resignation of president Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara on 29 May.

Local government[edit]

There are four administrative divisions (Central, Eastern, Northern and Western), each under the charge of a commissioner appointed by the central government. The divisions are further subdivided into fourteen provinces, each of which has a provincial council. In addition, the island of Rotuma has the status of a dependency, and enjoys a degree of internal autonomy, with its own island council.

Ethnic Fijians have their own administration in which councils preside over a hierarchy of provinces, districts, and villages. The councils deal with all matters affecting ethnic Fijians. The 55‑member Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga in Fijian) includes 3 representatives from each of Fiji's 14 provinces and 1 dependency, 3 ex-officio members (the president, vice-president, and prime minister), and 6 government appointees; former prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka is a life-member. The Great Council of Chiefs advises the government, and also functions as an electoral college to appoint the president of the Republic, as well as 14 of the 32 senators. This prerogative of the Council has been delegated to the 14 provincial councils, each choosing one senator. It is a constitutional oddity that even though Fiji is now a Republic, Queen Elizabeth II is still Paramount Great Chief.

Suva, Lautoka, and nine other towns have municipal governments, with city or town councils, each chaired by a mayor. These are responsible for the local affairs of all citizens, and are elected by universal suffrage.

Political conditions[edit]

In April 1970, a constitutional conference in London agreed that Fiji should become a fully sovereign and independent nation within the Commonwealth of Nations. Fiji became independent on 10 October of that year.

Post-independence politics came to be dominated by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and the Alliance Party, which commanded the support of the traditional Fijian chiefs, along with leading elements of the European and part-European communities, and some Indo-Fijians. The main parliamentary opposition, the National Federation Party, represented mainly rural Indo-Fijians. Intercommunal relations were managed without serious confrontation. A short-lived constitutional crisis developed after the parliamentary election of March 1977, when the Indian-led National Federation Party (NFP) won a narrow majority of seats in the House of Representatives, but failed to form a government due to internal leadership problems, as well as concerns among some of its members that indigenous Fijians would not accept Indo-Fijian leadership. The NFP splintered in a leadership brawl three days after the election; in a controversial move, the governor-general, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, called on the defeated Mara to form an interim government, pending a second election to resolve the impasse. This was held in September that year, and saw Mara's Alliance Party returned with a record majority of 36 parliamentary seats out of 52. The majority of the Alliance Party was reduced in the election of 1982, but with 28 seats out of 52, Mara retained power. Mara proposed a "government of national unity" — a grand coalition between his Alliance Party and the NFP, but the NFP leader, Jai Ram Reddy, rejected this.

The two coups of 1987[edit]

In April 1987, a coalition led by Dr Timoci Bavadra, an ethnic Fijian who was nevertheless supported mostly by the Indo-Fijian community, won the general election and formed Fiji's first majority Indian government, with Dr Bavadra serving as prime minister. After less than a month in office, Dr Bavadra was forcibly removed from power during a military coup led by Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka on 14 May 1987. Rabuka had served with the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Lebanon.[1]

After a period of continued jockeying and negotiation, Rabuka staged a second coup on 25 September 1987. The military government revoked the constitution and declared Fiji a republic on 10 October, the seventeenth anniversary of Fiji's independence from the United Kingdom. This action, coupled with protests by the government of India, led to Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth and official nonrecognition of the Rabuka regime by foreign governments, including Australia and New Zealand. On 6 December, Rabuka resigned as head of State, and the former governor-general, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, was appointed the first president of the Fijian Republic. Mara was reappointed prime minister, and Rabuka became minister of home affairs.

The Republic[edit]

The new government drafted a new constitution that went into force in July 1990. Under its terms, majorities were reserved for ethnic Fijians in both houses of the legislature. Previously, in 1989, the government had released statistical information showing that for the first time since 1946, ethnic Fijians were a majority of the population. More than 12,000 Indo-Fijians and other minorities had left the country in the two years following the 1987 coups. After resigning from the military, Rabuka became prime minister under the new constitution in 1992.

Ethnic tensions simmered in 1995-1996 over the renewal of Indo-Fijian land leases and political maneuvering surrounding the mandated 7‑year review of the 1990 constitution. The Constitutional Review Commission produced a draft constitution which slightly expanded the size of the legislature, lowered the proportion of seats reserved by ethnic group, reserved the presidency for ethnic Fijians but opened the position of prime minister to all races[clarification needed]. Prime minister Rabuka and president Mara supported the proposal, while the nationalist indigenous Fijian parties opposed it. The reformed constitution was approved in July 1997. Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth in October.

The first legislative elections held under the new constitution took place in May 1999. Rabuka's coalition was defeated by an alliance of Indo-Fijian parties led by Mahendra Chaudhry, who became Fiji's first Indo-Fijian prime minister.

The coup of 2000[edit]

Chaudhry's government was short-lived. After barely a year in office, Chaudhry and most other members of parliament were taken hostage in the House of Representatives by gunmen led by ethnic Fijian nationalist George Speight, on 19 May 2000. The standoff dragged on for 8 weeks — during which time Chaudhry was removed from office by the then-president Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara because of his inability to govern — before the Fijian military seized power and brokered a negotiated end to the situation, then arrested Speight when he violated its terms. Former banker Laisenia Qarase was named interim prime minister and head of the interim civilian government by the military and the Great Council of Chiefs in July. A court order restored the constitution early in 2001, and a subsequent election confirmed Qarase as prime minister.

The coup of 2006[edit]

Disgruntled by two bills before the Fijian Parliament, one offering amnesty for the leaders of the 2000 coup, the military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama asked prime minister Laisenia Qarase to resign in mid‑October, 2006. The prime minister attempted to sack Bainimarama without success. Australian and New Zealand governments expressed concerns about a possible coup.

On 4 November 2006, Qarase dropped the controversial amnesty measures from the bill. [2]

On 29 November New Zealand foreign minister Winston Peters organised talks in Wellington between prime minister Laisenia Qarase and Commodore Bainimarama. Peters reported the talks as "positive" but after returning to Fiji Commodore Bainimarama announced that the military were to take over most of Suva and fire into the harbour "in anticipation of any foreign intervention". [5]

Bainimarama announced on 3 December 2006 that he had taken control of Fiji. [3]

Bainimarama restored the presidency to Ratu Josefa Iloilo on 4 January 2007,[4][5] and in turn was formally appointed interim prime minister by Iloilo the next day.[6][7]

2009 constitutional crisis[edit]

On April 10, 2009, Fijian president Ratu Josefa Iloilo announced on a nationwide radio broadcast that he had suspended the Constitution of Fiji, dismissed the Court of Appeal and assumed all governance in the country after the court ruled that the current government is illegal.[8]

Contentious issues[edit]

Most of Fiji's political controversies are related to the ethnic fault line that characterizes Fijian politics. Fiji is one of the rare countries in the world that officially imposes disabilities on a group that constitutes a large part of the population (cf. Latvia), on the pretended basis of race.[9][10] It has caused an exodus of the Indians, who until recently formed a slight majority in Fiji.[11]

Land tenure[edit]

One of the main issues that has fuelled the contention over the years is land tenure. Indigenous Fijian communities very closely identify themselves with their land. In 1909 near the peak of the inflow of indentured Indian laborers, the land ownership pattern was frozen and further sales prohibited. Today over 80% of the land is held by indigenous Fijians, under the collective ownership of the traditional Fijian clans. Indo-Fijians produce over 90% of the sugar crop but must lease the land they work from its ethnic Fijian owners instead of being able to buy it outright. The leases have been generally for 10 years, although they are usually renewed for two 10‑year extensions. Many Indo-Fijians argue that these terms do not provide them with adequate security and have pressed for renewable 30‑year leases, while many ethnic Fijians fear that an Indo-Fijian government would erode their control over the land.

The Indo-Fijian parties' major voting bloc is made up of sugarcane farmers. The farmers' main tool of influence has been their ability to galvanize widespread boycotts of the sugar industry, thereby crippling the economy.

Citizenship and residency issues[edit]

Multiple citizenship, previously prohibited under the 1997 constitution (abrogated April 2009), has been permitted since the April 2009 Citizenship Decree[12][13] and established as a right under Section 5(4) of the September 2013 Constitution.[14][15]

Political parties and elections[edit]

For other political parties see List of political parties in Fiji. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Fiji.
Main article: Fiji election of 2006
e • d Summary of the 6-13 May 2006 Fiji House of Representatives election results
Parties Votes  % Seats +/-
Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) 342,352 44.59 36 +2
Fiji Labour Party (FLP) 300,797 39.18 31 +4
National Federation Party (NFP) 47,615 6.20 0 -1
National Alliance Party of Fiji (NAPF) 22,504 2.93 0
United Peoples Party (UPP) 6,474 0.84 2 +1
Party of National Unity (PANU) 6,226 0.81 0
Nationalist Vanua Tako Lavo Party (NVTLP) 3,657 0.48 0
Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) 238 0.03 0
National Democratic Party (NDP) 123 0.02 0
Party of Truth (POTT) 51 0.01 0
Social Liberal Multicultural Party (SLM) 49 0.01 0
Coalition of Independent Nationals (COIN) 20 0.00 0
Justice and Freedom Party (JFP) 18 0.00 0
Independents 37,571 4.89 2
New Labour Unity Party Didn't contest 0 -2
Total 767,695 71 71
Source: Elections Office of Fiji. The former Conservative Alliance with six seats merged into the SDL. SDL got two seats less than SDL and CA together.

International organization participation[edit]

ACP, AsDB, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G‑77, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO (subscriber), ITU, OPCW, PCA, PIF, Sparteca, SPC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNIKOM, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO.

The Consumer Council of Fiji[edit]

The Consumer Council of Fiji is a statutory organisation that looks after consumer interest in Fiji.

Establishment[edit]

The Consumer Council of Fiji is a statutory body established under the Consumer Council of Fiji Act 1976 (Cap 235[clarification needed]). The council is governed by a board of directors appointed by the minister of trade & industry. The board headed by a chairman appoints the chief executive officer, who runs the operations of the organisation.

The Council's head office is located on 4 Carnavon Street, in the Fijian capital of Suva. It has two other offices, one located in Lautoka (Fiji's second city) that serves the western division and the other in Labasa that serves the northern division. The Council has four core divisions: Campaigns, Information and Media Division; Alternative Dispute Resolution and Consumer Advisory Division; Research and Policy Analysis; and Administration, Human Resource & Project Management Division.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Politics, Professionalism, and Peacekeeping: An Analysis of the 1987 Military Coup in Fiji, Andrew Scobell, Comparative Politics, vol. 26, no. 2. (Jan., 1994), pp. 187-201.
  2. ^ Williams, Peter (5 November 2006). "Fiji PM drops controversial bill". The New Zealand Herald. AAP. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  3. ^ Phil Taylor and Nicola Shepheard (3 December 2006). "Fiji's military leader rules out further talks - report". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  4. ^ Fiji Village, 04-01-07, 'Commander hands back Executive Authority to Ratu Iloilo ' [1]
  5. ^ Fiji Live, 04-01-07, 'I support army takeover: Iloilo' [2]
  6. ^ Fiji Village, 05-01-07, 'Commander Bainimarama sworn in' [3]
  7. ^ Fiji Live, 05-01-07, 'President swears in interim PM' [4]
  8. ^ "Fijian president Ratu Josefa Iloilo abolishes constitution, sacks judiciary and assumes power". Australian Associated Press (The Australian). 10 April 2009. Retrieved 10 April 2009. 
  9. ^ CDNN SPECIAL REPORT :: FIJI - From Paradise to Pariah
  10. ^ Amnesty International
  11. ^ Migration News - Migration Dialogue
  12. ^ "Citizenship". Fiji Department of Immigration. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  13. ^ "2009 Citizenship Decree (PDF)". Fiji Department of Immigration. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  14. ^ "2013 Constitution". Elections Fiji. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  15. ^ "Constitution of the Republic of Fiji (PDF)". Elections Fiji. Retrieved 25 October 2013.