Fiji has a very interesting history. Fiji became independent in 1970, after nearly a century as a British colony. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987, caused by concern over a government perceived as dominated by the Indian community (descendants of contract laborers brought to the islands by the British in the 19th century).
A 1990 constitution favored native Melanesian control of Fiji, but led to heavy Indian emigration; the population loss resulted in economic difficulties, but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. Amendments enacted in 1997 made the constitution more equitable. Free and peaceful elections in 1999 resulted in a government led by an Indo-Fijian. Fiji has been a major contributor to UN peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world.
Tourism has expanded rapidly since the early 1980s and is the leading economic activity in the islands. Approximately 445,000 people visited Fiji in 2004. About one-third came from Australia, with large contingents also coming from New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan. More than 70,000 of the tourists were American, a number that has steadily increased since the start of regularly scheduled nonstop air service from Los Angeles. In 2004, Fiji's gross earnings from tourism were about $430 million, an amount double the revenue from its two largest goods exports (sugar and garments). Gross earnings from tourism continue to be Fiji's major source of foreign currency.
Indepth Fiji History
Melanesian and Polynesian peoples settled the Fijian islands some 3,500 years ago. European traders and missionaries arrived in the first half of the 19th century, and the resulting disruption led to increasingly serious wars among the native Fijian confederacies. One Ratu (chief), Cakobau, gained limited control over the western islands by the 1850s, but the continuing unrest led him and a convention of chiefs to cede Fiji unconditionally to the British in 1874.
The pattern of colonialism in Fiji during the following century was similar to that in many other British possessions: the pacification of the countryside, the spread of plantation agriculture, and the introduction of Indian indentured labor. Many traditional institutions, including the system of communal land ownership, were maintained.
Fiji soldiers fought alongside the Allies in the Second World War, gaining a fine reputation in the tough Solomon Islands campaign. The United States and other Allied countries maintained military installations in Fiji during the war, but Fiji itself never came under attack.
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.
After a period of deadlocked negotiations, Rabuka staged a second coup on September 25, 1987. The military government revoked the constitution and declared Fiji a republic on October 10. This action, coupled with protests by the Government of India, led to Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth of Nations and official nonrecognition of the Rabuka regime from foreign governments, including Australia and New Zealand. On December 6, Rabuka resigned as head of state and 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 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 2 years following the 1987 coups. After resigning from the military, Rabuka became prime minister under the new constitution in 1993.
Tensions simmered in 1995-96 over the renewal of land leases and political maneuvering surrounding the mandated 7-year review of the 1990 constitution. The Constitutional Review Commission produced a draft constitution that expanded the size of the legislature, lowered the proportion of seats reserved by ethnic group, and reserved the presidency for ethnic Fijians, but opened the position of prime minister to all races. 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 president (head of state) is appointed for a 5-year term by the Great Council of Chiefs, a traditional ethnic Fijian leadership body. The president in turn appoints the prime minister (head of government) and Cabinet from among the members of Parliament. Both houses of the legislature have some seats reserved by ethnicity. Other seats can be filled by persons of any ethnic group. The Senate is appointed; the House of Representatives is elected.
Fiji maintains an independent judiciary consisting of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, a High Court, and magistrate courts. The judiciary remained independent through the coups and the consequent absence of an elected government. All but one of the five judges on the Supreme Court also is a serving judge in Australia or New Zealand.
There are four administrative divisions--central, eastern, northern and western--each under the charge of a commissioner. 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 Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga) is made up of 55 hereditary chiefs, most of whom are nominated to the Council by their respective provincial councils. It is established under the Fijian Affairs Act and recognized by the constitution.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State (President)--Josefa Iloilo
Head of Government (Prime Minister)--Laisenia Qarase
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Kaliopate Tavola
Ambassador to the United States--Jesoni Vitusagavulu
Ambassador to the United Nations--Isikia Savua
Fiji maintains an embassy at Suite 240, 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel: 202-337-8320).