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Fiji 200 Political Coup

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The Republic of the Fiji Islands is currently plagued by political and social unrest. Since the hostile May 2000 coup the status of the Fijian government has been extremely unclear. Although George Speight, the coup leader, and remaining government officials agreed to an interim government, it has not yet gained stability nor received recognition from the international community. The interim government has initiated the process of drafting a new constitution to replace Fiji's multi-ethnic constitution of 1997 with one guaranteeing the political supremacy of indigenous Fijians. The future of the interim government is itself questionable as is evident by the Fijian court declaring the coup and subsequent developments illegal and upholding the ousted 1997 constitution.

The primary cause of the chaos is ethnic animosity, however, it is evident that other factors including historical, economical, cultural and regional divisions all contribute to Fiji's turmoil. It is the purpose of this paper to identify the seminal events of ethnic chaos in Fiji. Competing theories of ethnic politics will be applied to the Fijian situation so that the route causes of the turmoil may be identified and exploited in the formation of a possible solution to the chaos.

The foundations of conflict between native Fijians and ethnic Indians were laid in the 1874 deed of cession signed by the United Kingdom and the chiefs of Fiji. The deed bound Britain to the Fijian way of life as assured by Fijian chiefs holding the most power in the political system. The three major issues addressed in the deed are also the main causes of Fijian conflict today. The first condition was that all the land not under European control at the time of the deed, (approximately 90 percent) would remain under Fijian ownership.

The second condition of the deed of cession was the forced migration of 61,000 indentured workers from India to the sugar plantations of Fiji. In 1916 the Indian workers were released from servitude and about half of them returned to India while the other half remained in Fiji where the were they were guaranteed equal rights under the law. However, the indigenous Fijians did not accept the remaining ethnic Indians as social or political equals.

The third source of turmoil resulting from the deed was the establishment of the native Fijian administration, which assured Fijian chiefs would continue to control the island under British supervision. This system offered Fiji protection by the United Kingdom; however, the resulting insulation left the country largely unprepared for self-rule in 1970.

The present Fijian conflict covers a wide spectrum of political expression. This expression has sometimes been expressed violently as made evident when George Speight's ultranationalist regime stormed Fiji's parliament in the capital city of Suva. In the coup, Prime Minister Chaudry, the country's first indigenous Indian leader, as well as thirty other members of parliament were taken hostage for eight weeks. In a statement to the press Speight said he was taking, "ownership and control" of the government on behalf of ethnic Fijians, and revoking the multi-racial constitution. After the takeover, martial law was declared by armed forces chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama. The military and other government officials worked to gain the release of the hostages, which was successful only after the adoption of an interim government and a grant of amnesty to all involved with the seizure of parliament. Despite amnesty, Speight and many of his followers were arrested shortly after the release of hostages because they failed to turn in their weapons and thus violated the amnesty contract. Speight's ultra nationalist group is affiliated with the indigenous Tauki Movement organization which is dedicated to total political control buy indigenous Fijians. The Tauki movement is violent because it seeks to alter the government in such a way that it may be used as a powerful tool to repress ethnic Indians while promoting the welfare of indigenous Fijians.

Institutional politics also have a place in the Fijian crisis as is clear by the role of elections and interest groups. The Fijian government plans to hold a vote to ratify its new constitution in late 2002. Further plans include holding a general vote to elect political leaders two years after constitutional ratification. It is evident that one reason the government plans to hold elections is in hope of gaining increased legitimacy and international recognition and support.

Interest groups and oppositional parties were successful in lobbying to modify the previous constitution and are expected to play a significant role in the drafting of the new constitution. The National Federation Party and the Fiji Labour Party were able to mandate change in the distribution of parliamentary representation for all ethnic groups. Under the previously held constitution of 1997, neither ethnic Fijians nor any other group had automatic parliamentary majority. The Prime Minister could have been of any ethnicity and by law the composition of the cabinet had to be both multi-ethnic and mult-party. A bill of rights guaranteed basic liberal freedoms.

Democratic transition politics are also present in Fiji as the country searched for a stable and just government. The move from imperialism to military rule was very difficult due to the increased exposure and volatility experienced when no longer under British supervision. Furthermore, the democratization of Fiji has been plagued by instability and multiple coups. This is primarily due to the uncompromising attitudes of the two equally sized indigenous Fijian and ethnic Indian ethnicities.

Identity politics are an important factor in the Fijian conflict as evident by indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians jockeying for stability and superiority. Indigenous Fijians wish to preserve their culture, which they feel is threatened by ethnic Indians' call for modernization. Indigenous Fijians are also upset by that ethnic Indians participate in a disproportionately high amount of private enterprise and have a slightly higher yearly salary. Conversely, ethnic Indians believe that they should be granted true social and political equality. They contend that they are working to better themselves and their people, not to alienate indigenous Fijians.

The Fijian population is primarily composed of two competing ethnicities, indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians. Indigenous Fijians make up 52 percent of Fiji's citizens and own approximately 84 percent of Fiji's land. The ethnic group is derived from the combination of Polynesian and Melanesian ancestry and is believed to be responsible for island settlement approximately 3,500 years ago. 78 percent of indigenous Fijians are Christian as



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