From Democratic Dictatorship to Democracy in Fiji
Paper presented at the 11th Pacific Islands Political Studies Association (PIPSA) Conference, University of Auckland, New Zealand. December 3-4, 2009.
From Democratic Dictatorship to Democracy in Fiji
By Subhash Appana
Fiji has had 5 coups and 5 general elections within a span of some 22 years since 1987 when government was changed for the first time through violent means in the South Pacific. At this point in time Fiji continues to be seen as a pariah state by its more critical and superficially-informed neighbours. This paper critically examines the constitutional frameworks within which Fiji’s elections have taken place in light of coups that have been executed at critical junctures, and argues that both the 1970 and 1997 constitutions, despite having widespread acceptance, were designed to ensure democratic dictatorship under the guise of democracy in the country. This is a critical point that is inadequately appreciated by cynics, commentators, politicians and academics both within and outside of Fiji. The paper concludes by briefly discussing emerging lessons that could be used to make electoral changes that would ensure that Fiji finally has a functioning democracy that would deliver for both the country and its numerous internal as well as external stakeholders.
Fiji has had 10 general elections (1972, 1977x2, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1994, 1999, 2001 and 2006) and 5 coups within a span of 39 years since October 1970 when it gained independence from Britain under a carefully constructed transitional framework. If periods of unelected rule were to be factored in, it could be seen that Fiji has had one election every 2.8 years. All of the elections were contested along ethnic lines with clear ethnic alignments behind the Alliance Party and National Federation Party (NFP) in 1972, 1977x2 and 1982. The 1987 elections was an aberration of sorts until ethnic alignments re-emerged in a much hardened manner in 1992, 1994, 1999, 2001 and 2006. Each of the elections had a number of features of note. These are discussed under sub-headings here. In addition to this Fiji has had 3 constitutions since October 1970. This paper critically examines two1 of the constitutional frameworks within which Fiji’s elections took place. It follows voter alignments and links it to expectations of the sponsors of the 1970 and 1997 constitutions. The paper argues that, when seen from the perspective of Fijian expectations, the 2 widely-accepted and acclaimed constitutions in question were designed to ensure democratic dictatorship under the guise of democracy in the country. It concludes by identifying and discussing important lessons that have emerged from past experiences. A number of critical issues are raised at the end that will need to be central in any proposals for reforms aimed at ensuring that Fiji finally has a true functioning democracy.
The main obstacle in the path to independence had been the status of Indians and the potential threat2 they posed in their political aspirations in a country that they had been brought to as indentured labourers by the British colonizers. When independence was finally granted, the issue of electoral processes and linked power arrangements was left to the Alliance and National Federations Parties to work out. This was seen as a potential time bomb by Governor Foster even though passing power to Mara was considered a safe bet (Foster, 1970). Tight negotiations led to the following electoral provisions for membership of Parliament and Senate in the 1970 constitution:
Parliament (52 elected parliamentarians)
Fijian seats 22 (12 communal and 10 national3)
Indian 22 (12 communal and 10 national)
Others4 8 (5 communal and 3 national)
Senate (22 nominated Senators)
Great Council of Chiefs 8
Prime Minister 7
Leader of the Opposition 6
Council of Rotuma 1
It can be seen from the above that the Senate was heavily skewed towards Fijian representation. This was meant to provide visible assurance to the uncomprehending and apprehensive Fijian electorate that the control of their destiny was not under threat. Furthermore, the 1970 constitution had entrenched provisions pertaining to Fijian customs, customary rights, land ownership, etc. For these issues dealing with traditional rights and ownership there were safeguards at multiple levels with the ultimate being a constitutionally stipulated requirement that 6 of the 8 GCC nominees had to support the change. In other words, any changes to the constitutional position of the Fijian could only be brought about with support from their chiefly nominees in the Fiji Senate. In addition to this, there were a number of unarticulated assumptions that were meant to ensure continued uninterrupted rule of the country by the Alliance Party under Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
Assumptions behind the Electoral Provisions of the 1970 Constitution
One of the assumptions was that the Fijian chiefly system was strong enough to ensure that the Fijians voted as an amorphous whole in deference to chiefly guidance personified at the highest level by Ratu Mara. Two, that the fear of the Indian threat would keep the Fijian vote unified creating a permanent Indian opposition that would serve the purposes of democratic governance. In fact, it could also be hazarded that it was further assumed that this possibility would prompt a more cooperative attitude among the Indians to support Ratu Mara’s Alliance Party. Three, that there would be no cross-alignments of interests across the ethnic divide outside the Alliance Party. And four, that the disproportionately-represented Others would hold the balance of power and always support the Alliance Party. All these assumptions were meant to ensure perpetual rule by the Alliance Party within the framework of democracy. And the 1972 elections appeared to demonstrate this foresight in practice.
The 1972 elections, won 33 seats to 19 by the Alliance Party, followed 2 years of unelected rule by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. 1969-1972 was a period when Ratu Mara and the National Federation Party (NFP) leader S.M. Koya had forged a close working relationship; the politics of race had not taken root at that point in time even though by-elections for the legislative council in 1968 had led to race riots because the NFP won all 9 Indian communal seats and the Alliance only managed to attract 20% of the Indian vote. Elections in 1972 saw the Alliance Party poll some 25% of the Indo-Fijian vote. This was largely due to the personal popularity of and trust in Ratu Mara. This was also when hitherto silent Fijian leaders began to question whether the Indian vote would ever move sufficiently in support of Ratu Mara. 1972 was also the last time that the Alliance Party would attract large numbers of Indian votes as increased anti-Indian pronouncements began to characterize party politics in Fiji.
April 1977 saw a complacent Alliance Party lose to a more focused NFP by two seats in the 52 member parliament – 26 seats to 24. Voting had largely been on ethnic lines, but Sakeasi Butadroka’s Fijian Nationalist Party showed that Mara’s personal appeal and chiefly status was not enough to attract Fijian votes; this had to be complemented with a strong pro-Fijian rhetoric that concurrently castigated the Indo-Fijian population. Butadroka’s fiery “Indians go back home” rhetoric had caught the fancy of approximately 25% of Fijian voters. Inability of a fragmented NFP to agree on a PM led to the appointment of Mara as a minority PM by Governor General Ratu Sir George Cakobau, and a second election followed in September of the same year. In the lead-up to the elections, the NFP derailed in the midst of bitter infighting and contested as the Dove and Flower factions and the results showed a complete rout by the Alliance Party – 36 seats to 15. Ratu Mara was back in power and the status quo prevailed.
Ethnic alignments hardened after 1977 and there was no possibility of power sharing arrangements within a government of national unity as Ratu Mara had rejected it in 1977 when he formed a minority government. The fragmented NFP finally united under pacifist Jai Ram Reddy, but the 1982 elections was marked by bitter recriminations and allegations of electioneering and foreign involvement between Reddy and Mara. Robust criticisms of the Alliance and its policies were immediately seen as attacks against Fijian chiefs who led the party and this incensed Fijians making for highly convenient rallying points for the Alliance Party. At the end of a bitter election campaign, the Alliance won 28 seats while the NFP got 22 and the Western United Front (WUF) 2. It needs to be noted that the Alliance rhetoric had also become strongly anti-Indian at strategic times and this kept a check on the Nationalists and Butadroka’s popularity. Furthermore, the 2 seats won by the western Viti Levu based WUF showed an East-West divide among Fijian voters. At this juncture voters had also finally become visibly polarized along ethnic lines.5 This would become more clearly visible in the conduct of national politics with a brief interlude seen after the Fiji Labour Party was formed in 1985.
In 1987, the scenario changed somewhat after the ailing NFP joined as coalition partner with the cross-ethnic based Fiji Labour Party. Subsequently a largely urban Fijian vote defeated a salient surmise of the 1970 constitution that the Alliance Party would rule in perpetuity given the ethnic composition of the country, the alignments of the various sub-categories within these, and traditional allegiance towards the “Father of the Nation6”, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Against expectations, four crucial cross-voting seats (North-Western and Suva Central) were won by the FLP/NFP coalition largely on the back of the urban Fijian vote that led to a shock defeat of the Alliance Party and Ratu Mara in April 1987. Seat distribution was as follows: NFP/FLP Coalition 28 and Alliance 24.
An orchestrated campaign of destabilization followed the unexpected defeat of the Alliance Party. Barely one month after being in office, PM Timoci Bavadra and his Coalition Government were removed via a coup executed by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka on 14th May, 1987. The justification offered was that there was “no other way” to prevent bloodshed against the Indo-Fijian community by an irate Fijian polity. Of particular concern to Rabuka and his backers was whether Fijian soldiers would be willing to take up arms against Fijian destabilizers, and more importantly, whether this could be justified among the Fijian people. As the volatile situation was brought under control, the 1970 constitution was abrogated and demands emerged for a new constitution that would “never” allow political power to be moved out of Fijian hands.
Thus the 1970 constitution was acceptable so long as it served its unspecified promise of ensuring power in perpetuity for the Alliance Party. All the elections that had been conducted within its framework were meant to have foregone results. Any threats to Fijian political hegemony were not supposed to be part of the democratic process in Fiji. This was what drove the search for a new constitution at that juncture. The negotiations process for a new constitution had token Indian participation while numerous Fijian interest groups emerged. From this cacophony of interests emerged the sectarian and highly discriminatory 1990 constitution, which was replaced by the popular 1997 constitution as a response to pragmatic concerns and demands from both within and outside Fiji. This paper does not cover the 1990 constitution as it was never passed off as a universally accepted document. Instead the focus now moves to the 1997 constitution.
The 1997 constitution, like the 1970 constitution, resulted from a shared vision, exceptional leadership and sustained cooperative effort from PM Rabuka and the Leader of the Opposition, Jai Ram Reddy. Showing a Saul-Paul type conversion, Rabuka became a champion for cross-cultural cooperation after a fractious 3 years as PM. The 5 years prior to 1992 was also characterized by a balancing act that was shadowed by an undeclared struggle for control between Rabuka and Ratu Mara. All this time Rabuka had managed to keep his precarious hold on power. He had not only mastered the art of playing factional politics, but it can be argued that he had begun to see factional politics as the only type of politics for stable government in Fiji. There were therefore, two relevant concerns that the 1997 constitution needed to have. One, that it should foster and facilitate cross-cultural bridges at the political level at the very least. And two, that it should widen the field for factional politics with the inclusion of the hitherto barred Indo-Fijian groupings.
Three eminent widely accepted persons were chosen to lead the constitution-building process. Very conscious of the problematic provincial and ethnic composition of Fiji, the architects painstakingly researched alternatives over 18 months and prepared a 700 page report. In it, they proposed a 70 seat parliament with a total removal of communal based voting. In addition to these, in recognition of the need for cross-party and cross-ethnic cooperation, the 1997 constitution contained 2 explicit provisions. One, that the preferential voting (alternate vote) system be used. And two, that the winning political party had to invite all other political parties securing more than 10% of total seats in parliament for the same proportion of positions in cabinet.
Political realities and objectives however, led to drastic and substantive changes to these recommendations; this completely distorted the vision that drove the constitution building process. The composition of parliament was subsequently changed by politicians in a parliamentary select committee to 46 communal and 25 open (cross-voting) seats. Intense negotiations led to the following composition of parliament in the 1997 constitution.
Parliament (71 elected parliamentarians)
Fijian seats 23 (Ba 2, Tailevu 2, Cakaudrove 2 plus 1 each for remaining 11 provinces plus 6 urban/peri-urban Fijian seat)
Plus 25 open/cross-voting seats
Senate (32 nominated Senators)
Bose Levu Vakaturaga 14
Prime Minister 9
Leader of the Opposition 8
Council of Rotuma 1
It can be seen from the above that Fijian representation had begun to reflect the ethnic composition of Fiji’s total population. And in deference to provincial concerns that had arisen after 1987, Fijian representation was now heavily based on provincial lines. It was also clear that token thought had finally been given to the urban Fijian voice which was grossly underrepresented. For those issues impinging on Fijian sensitivities, sections 185/186 of the 1997 constitution clearly entrenched customary rights and entitlements of indigenous Fijians and Rotumans. A total of 9 out of the 14 BLV Senators had to support changes to these provisions in the third reading of the proposed amendment Act before it could become law. Thus like the 1970 constitution, the 1997 constitution recognized the paramountcy of and necessary safeguards for indigenous Fijian concerns.
Assumptions behind the Electoral Provisions of the 1997 Constitution
This paper argues that there were unarticulated assumptions behind the 1970 constitution that were meant to ensure power in perpetuity. Likewise the 1997 constitution also had a number of assumptions. One, that multi-racial political platforms like the one seen in 1987 would be impossible to forge within the same political party, hence necessitating cross-party cooperation. Two, that provincial politics would provide fertile ground for factional politics. Three, that the Indian parties would present 2 large factions that could be played off against each other. Four, that the goodwill seen between Rabuka and Reddy would allow for preferential vote sharing, constant consultation across the ethnic divide and an ethnically balanced cooperative cabinet. And most importantly that, the SVT and NFP would win the 1999 elections and, through their efforts, sow the seeds of power in perpetuity through cooperation.
The 1999 elections was conducted under the newly-promulgated 1997 constitution; it introduced a preferential voting system for the first time in Fiji. Individual polling was marked by an anti-Rabuka feeling across the ethnic divide and a pro-Labour sentiment among the Indo-Fijian electorate. The excruciatingly formulated 1997 constitution gained little or no mileage among the voters. On the other hand, party preferences appeared to be based both on an anti-Rabuka inclination and a pragmatic evaluation of power and rule seen in the uncharacteristic alignment of the Veitokani ni Lotu Vakarisito Party (VLV)7 and the Fijian Association Party (FAP)8 with Chaudhry’s Fiji Labour Party (FLP). An alliance of the dark horses was thus formed to marginalize Rabuka and topple Reddy.
A number of reasons have been forwarded for the poor showing of Rabuka and Reddy at the 1999 polls where Rabuka’s SVT won 8 seats while Reddy’s NFP was totally routed. The first is that the preferential voting system was new to Fiji and therefore, little understood. The second is that Rabuka’s relatively recent conversion to multi-racial champion failed to convince the Indo-Fijian electorate. Three, that Rabuka over-estimated his personal appeal among grassroots Fijians as well as among his lieutenants. Four, that Rabuka also over-estimated the mass appeal of his cross-cultural vision. Five, that Rabuka under-estimated the power of the Fijian factions that he had grappled with for 12 years as seen in the surprising polling from the FAP, VLV and PANU.
Unfortunately for all concerned, the 1997 constitution failed to deliver the right winners and Chaudhry unexpectedly ascended to Prime Ministership of Fiji. It is important to highlight the fact that when those who were expected to win lost, the seeds of political destabilization were immediately sown. It was just a matter of time before it would bear fruit with the unscheduled removal of Chaudhry. To aid this process, a number of factors came into play. These included: the immediate supplanting of Dr. Tupeni Baba by Chaudhry as the FLP candidate for PM, a number of avoidable decisions by Chaudhry like the decision to hire his son as personal secretary, an abrasive style of leadership that was totally bereft of any understanding of Fijian protocol and sensitivities, hostility from the NLTB who controlled the expiring land leases of Chaudhry’s main supporters, a push for the Land Use Commission concept without adequate consultation, the multi-million dollar mahogany deal and rolling back and stalling of the opportunity-laden public sector reform process. These were the main reasons attributable to Chaudhry personally even though there were a plethora of other reasons for the 2000 coup.
From May 2000 to September 2001, deliberations were held largely among the Fijian Establishment9 to plot a political path for Fiji. The Chandrika Prasad case (April 2000) declared the 1997 constitution still operational and the decision faced was to either accept the constitution or abrogate it. It is argued here that it was retained less for legal reasons, but with an expectation that perpetual political victory could be assured within its ambit.
In September 2001, hurried elections followed the removal of Chaudhry’s Peoples’ Coalition Government via the Speight coup in May 2000. That government had shown that there was potential in Fiji for political parties to unite across the ethnic divide under the 1997 constitution provided they had support from the electorate. This support was limited to the political level and there was both a lack of understanding and acceptance of the cross-party horse-trading that prevailed. The obsession appeared to be on toppling Rabuka with little appreciation of what to do afterwards. Thus unfortunately, this amalgamation of interests was fragile and the 2000 coup was precipitated on an orchestrated demonization of Chaudhry and his “designs”10 for Fiji.
In the follow-up to the 2001 elections some F$15-25m of assistance was disbursed through the Ministry of Agriculture to mainly those provinces who were most enthusiastic in their support of the 2000 coup. These elections therefore, resulted clearly from popularity curried largely through handouts by a mediocre banker with no major public profile, who had assumed leadership of the Fijian polity under extremely uncertain circumstances. The politics of blatant handouts for support thus finally became an overt part of Fiji politics. This characterized Laisenia Qarase’s rule from 2000 to 2006.
A number of additional factors came into play in the 2001 elections. One, the nationalists gravitated around the CAMV and freed Qarase’s SDL to present a moderate public platform. Two, Dr. Baba broke away from Chaudhry and formed the apparently popular New Labour Unity Party (NLUP). Three, the SDL formed an almost natural coalition with the CAMV to form government even though they were not constitutionally obliged to do so. And four, Chaudhry was not included in cabinet even though this was a constitutional requirement.11 Very interestingly, in the 2001 elections, the SDL garnered 26% of total votes while the FLP got 32% (Foster, 2009).
Qarase’s reign was characterized by an overt slant towards ethno-nationalism, heavy rewards for support bordering on vote-buying and boardroom-type business deals. He accommodated key people involved in the 2000 coup and shielded them from the judicial process. He released Ratu Jope Seniloli, sentenced to 4 years in prison on 6 August 2004, on undeclared medical grounds less than 4 months later on 29 November 2004. Seniloli who was on full pay during incarceration would retain a pension equivalent to 30% of his vice-presidential salary; George Speight, Timoci Silatolu, Jo Nata and a number of CRW soldiers who had held parliament hostage for 56 days during the 2000 coup were jailed in very un-jail-like conditions on Nukulau Island; Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, who was Minister for Lands and Minister for Mineral Resources as well as Deputy PM, was sentenced to 8 months then released in 10 days to serve his sentence extra-murally. All charged rioters of 2000 were given suspended sentences and ordered to return to their villages, but hardly anyone did as they were Suva dwellers. This process of “acceptance” was given a legal dimension when Qarase introduced the Promotion of Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity (RTU) Bill in parliament in May 2005 as a way to “forgive” all coup perpetrators.
Closely coupled with this Bill were the proposed Qoliqoli Bill and the Land Claims Tribunal Bill, both aimed at increasing Fijian rights to ownership and management of natural resources at the expense of other sections of the community. Management of resources accruing from these 2 Bills was to be placed in the hands of the Native Lands Trust Board (NLTB) on behalf of the Fijian community. This effectively gave total ownership rights by proxy to virtually all of Fiji’s land and sea resources to a cadre of bureaucrats and politicians connected to the NLTB and Qarase. Shortly after this, a deal was struck with public sector unions on the eve of the 2006 elections to increase salaries of public servants and backdate it to 2004 at a projected cost of $200m. When these initiatives are seen in conjunction with an obvious inability of government to pay the promised $200m, it can be concluded that this was an elections gimmick to win support for the 2006 elections.
As Qarase’s vision and strategies began to be implemented, a cadre of people became firmly ensconced in key positions within the bureaucracy, NLTB, FDB, public enterprises, etc. In addition to this, a number of local consultants emerged with direct connections to government. It is within this framework that spoils and opportunities were made available amid the ethno-nationalist rhetoric that surrounded the SDL party. The 2006 elections was merely a necessary exercise that had to be gone through to ensure the public acceptability of Qarase rule within a framework that had already been hijacked to ensure power in perpetuity.
The 2006 elections had a number of interesting characteristics. Qarase’s Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) Party rode an ethno-nationalist and openly racist gravy train from 2000 to 2006. During this period, Fijian expectations were interwoven with an almost punitive denial of Indo-Fijian aspirations in government policies and programs. Three bills: Truth and Reconciliation Bill, Indigenous Land Tribunals Bill and the Qoliqoli Bill were seen as the SDL’s emphatic affirmation of Fijian aspirations in their own country. This, and other more questionably pro-Fijian policies and programs12, were supposed to propel Qarase back to power in 2006. There was no separate party for the nationalists this time around as the SDL won 36 seats (44.59% votes) to FLP’s 31 (39.18% votes).
A Public Accounts Committee report released in 2009 revealed that 959,405 voters were registered and, for these, a total of 2,082,280 ballot papers were printed (FT 19/9/09) - 665,256 of these were later unaccounted for (Fiji Sun, 11/5/07). Very interestingly, the 2006 elections garnered an astounding 767,695 valid votes from a total population of 893,354 – meaning 85.9% of the population were eligible to vote. These statistics also meant that out of a population of 893,354, Fiji had a ridiculous voter registration of 959,405. There could be only one conclusion from this; elections in Fiji were not allowed to follow normal expected procedures and blatant attempts were being made to influence outcomes. Power in perpetuity was being ensured through attempts to tinker with the polling process. This complaint had been raised by Dr. Baba and his NLUP in 2001. This time all Chaudhry’s complaints led to naught. Indeed, government excesses and disregard for controls after Qarase came to power had prompted a number of people to propose a Code of Conduct Bill for parliament. Qarase opposed this throughout his reign. Thus the mechanisms that Qarase put in place finally promised to deliver the power in perpetuity that had always been an unarticulated precondition for Fijian acceptance of any constitutional framework for democracy in Fiji. Ironically, it was this same certainty that provided the rationale for the Bainimarama coup of 5th December 2006.
All 10 of Fiji’s general elections had ethnicity and resource allocation implications at their bases. With very few exceptions voter choice was largely based on race and expectations of special privileges or rewards rather than soundness of policies and programs. The national good took a back seat to myopic and selfish personal interest. Furthermore, with the passing of time, it has been seen that anti-Indian rhetoric alone is not enough to attract votes; this has to be complemented with an emphatic pro-Fijian agenda laced with immediate handouts and promises of much more. The Fijian polity has been trained to be dependent on government right from the colonial days. This dependence and expectations were blown out of proportion by Qarase in his quest to retain power. Must resource allocation continue to be based on ethnic lines and perpetuate this tendency to ignore issues, policies and personalities in casting that all important vote within a democratic framework?
Both the 1970 and 1997 constitutions were not available in the Fijian vernacular for the largely rural Fijian community in the case of the 1970 constitution and for a more dispersed Fijian community in the case of the 1997 constitution. Was this omission the result of simple oversight or was it by design? If it was by design to allow politicians to play on imaginary ethnic fears in order to mobilize political support, it simply reinforces the argument that the expectations from both the constitutions was power in perpetuity. It was only after the 2000 coup that attempts were made to translate the 1997 constitution and make it widely available. This is very interesting because it was the 2000 coup that first showed major rifts among the Fijian polity. Was this the beginning of a realization among those who hitherto did not care that Fiji finally needed a true functioning democracy? Indeed, given that the 1970 constitution had not shown any weaknesses when the 1987 coup took place, one would have thought that the need for having vernacular versions available would have been identified earlier. Instead, for some unclear reason Fijian governments chose to keep the Fijian electorate from understanding the finer points in both the 1970 and 1997 constitutions.
Furthermore, both constitutions had water-tight entrenched provisions for safeguarding indigenous customs, customary rights and interests. Under no circumstances could legislation damaging to Fijian interests be passed without the support of an overwhelming majority of chiefly nominees in the Fiji Senate. These safeguards that would have allayed Fijian fears were kept conveniently tucked away in English in the 2 constitutions.
The most popular reason given for coups in Fiji has been fear of Indian domination within the Fijian psyche; this continues to be the popular rhetoric on discussions around the 1987 and 2000 coups. The rationale changes however, in the face of the 2006 military coup that was executed by the virtually exclusive Fijian military against the highly ethno-nationalistic SDL government of PM Laisenia Qarase. There were a host of issues that formed the undercurrent to the Bainimarama coup. Those issues are strictly Fijian and have nothing to do with Fiji’s Indian community. The question that arises is should the Indian variable be allowed to retain its separate tag and continue to play its distractive role within the framework of democracy in Fiji? In addition to this, changing demographic realities clearly negate the Indian-threat argument13 as the Indo-Fijian continues to lose faith in the country of his birth.
The urban Fijian has largely been under-represented in all of Fiji’s constitutions. In 1970 the strong chiefly system and the social structures that it held together made the urban Fijian very much a part of the rural based Fijian system. The rural-urban divide however, has become increasingly marked in recent times with the advent of education, paid employment and participation in the business sector. In fact, most of the visible Fijian faces on the national scene are of urban Fijians. In addition to this, there is a further divide among the urban Fijians; that of the established affluent professional or businessman and the, more recently arrived, resentful squatter. The captive nature of the rural vote and the more capricious nature of the urban Fijian vote has tempted a rural bias in constitutional weightings in the past. The increasing number of urban Fijians must be given the same voice as the rural dwellers by making the weightings of the 2 votes equal.
The 2006 coup has brought into the open a major rift within the Fijian community that is linked to the two paramount chiefly houses of Mataiwelagi and Vuniduva at the highest levels. Amongst ordinary Fijians, there is a pro-Qarase/anti-Bainimarama faction and a pro-Bainimarama/let’s move on faction. It appears that the chiefly divide cannot be healed through traditional mechanisms as Fiji does not have a Vunivalu since 1989 and there is no possibility for reconciliation between the two factions in Somosomo as too much has been done. Ratu Epeli Ganilau’s removal from the chairmanship of the GCC in 2004 by Qarase might have been the last straw as Qarase always sided with his rival Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu. On the other hand, the other lower-level divides could be healed with time as Fiji returns to democratic governance and robust systems of checks and balances begin to operate as safeguards.
There are two final issues that need to be discussed here to complete the aims of this paper. One, since the 1997 constitution has been abrogated, what form should the new constitution take. And two, who should lead the change process. To the first question, there is no need to totally recreate a new constitution because the 1997 constitution was both thorough and comprehensive in its coverage. It is only its electoral provisions and the forced shared cabinet that needs re-consideration. In this regard, the NZ system of proportional representation with list candidates offers a useful possibility. Furthermore, the forced cabinet provision of the 1997 constitution, although noble in its intentions, opened the process to expensive abuse that the country cannot afford as seen in the mischievious expansion of cabinet by Qarase to accommodate the FLP in 2006.
The answer to the second question of who should lead the change is fairly straightforward. Commodore Bainimarama is in control in Fiji at the moment and he has repeatedly talked about his intention to steer Fiji to “true democracy”. It is this opportunity that must be accessed through constructive engagement with the Commodore in order to speedily bring about political democracy within the country and acceptance of Fiji within the wider community. It needs to be noted that each of the main coups followed electoral results that did not meet the expectations of the Fijian voter. In order for these expectations to change in accordance with the requirements of a functioning democracy, there has to be a wide and concerted educational/training program that teaches each and every person in Fiji how a democracy works and how it ensures that individual interests are ultimately served if victorious parties are allowed to form government and actually attempt to deliver on their promises. It is this that should finally bring political stability to Fiji and remove the spectre of coups from its landscape.
Civil Appeal No. ABU 0078 of 2000, On APPEAL FROM Lautoka High Court, Civil Action No. 217/2000.
Constitutions of Fiji, 1970 & 1997.
Foster, P. (2009). The Truth About Fiji (dossier).
http://epress.anu.edu.au/ssgm/time_bomb/mobile_devices/apb.html, Appendix 2. Fiji Final Dispatch (8 Oct. 1970) By Sir Robert Foster (Governor of Fiji).
Naidu, V. Coups in Fiji: Seesawing Democratic multiracialism and ethno-nationalist extremism, Victoria University of Wellington.
Subhash Appanna (3/12/2009)
1 The discriminatory and divisive 1990 constitution has been left out of the ambit of this paper because it was simply imposed on a large portion of the Fiji population and did not have broad-based support.
2 This emanated from the 55% share that the Indian had of Fiji’s total population.
3 National seats involved voting across ethnic boundaries.
4 This “Others” category included any citizen of Fiji who was of neither Fijian nor Indian origin.
5 This demarcation can be erroneously traced back to April 1977 when the NFP triumphed, but at that point in time the Alliance Party still enjoyed considerable Indo-Fijian support. It was only in the aftermath of the April 1977 elections that the Indo-Fijian voter realized that political power was possible through the NFP and that Butadroka’s “Indians Go Back Home” rhetoric had political currency amongst Fijian voters; this is when the Indo-Fijian began to look in earnest for the ethnic umbrella for security. This movement became visible in the 1982 general elections.
6 This epithet of “Father of the Nation” can be vehemently disputed because Ratu Mara opposed independence for Fiji when A.D. Patel and Co. were pushing for it in the 1960s. Given the prominence of Mara in any discussion on independence and his original vision for Fiji, I have chosen to use this despite potential objections.
7 The VLV had its origins in the US when its leader Poseci Bune was Fiji’s Ambassador to the UN. It clearly had the blessings of the then President Mara and had among its senior lineup Ratu Mara’s daughter, Adi Koila Nailatikau.
8 The FAP leader, Adi Kuini Vuikaba Speed, was the widow of the founding leader of the FLP, Dr. Timoci Bavadra. She had left the FLP after having a fallout with Chaudhry and his supporters over her insistence on following traditional protocol in dealing with chiefs.
9 This includes a loose alignment of the Council of Chiefs, Methodist Church and key Fijian institutions of government.
10 Allegations ranged from depriving Fijians of their identity, land and heritage to making Fiji a “Little India”.
11 In refusing FLP participation in cabinet, Qarase said Chaudhry’s demands could not be met as they were unreasonable.
12 These are enumerated in the “Blueprint for the Protection of Fijian and Rotuman Interests, and the Advancement of their Development”. One program involved giving financial grants to Fijian-run schools based on head count at the expense of non-Fijian schools that actually had more Fijian students.
13 Indo-Fijians now comprise some 35% of Fiji’s population with emigration being pursued in a most determined manner.