By Michael C. Howard
In 1987 -- first in May and again in September -- Fiji, which had often been regarded as a model for racial co-existence, surprised the rest of the world by staging not one but two coups. Most interpreters of the Fijian political scene saw the events as a result of tension between native Fijians and members of other ethnic groups. Michael Howard argues in this book that this interpretation is simplistic. Instead, he points out, the May coup was a strike against democratic government by elements associated with Fiji's traditional oligarchy seeking to hide behind a mask of populist communalism.
Howard traces the evolution of Fijian politics from the precolonial chiefdoms, through the colonial era and into the postcolonial period, emphasizing the developments during the latter half of the 1980s. As a close and involved observer, he draws a convincing picture of the leading actors in contemporary Fijian politics and the motives guiding their actions. He describes how the ruling elite -- the Fijian chiefly families and their allies -- has maintained its power by manipulating communal or racially based sentiments and how the opposition has attempted to change the situation by creating political alignments based on social class.
In the central part of the book Howard chronicles the rise of the Fiji Labour Party and its 1987 election victory over the ruling Alliance Party. He then discusses the short-lived regime of the Bavadra government and the events leading up to the May 1987 coup. Finally, he looks at events following the coup, as the oligarchy has sought to reimpose control in the face of popular opposition and internal division, discussing their implications for the social condition of Fiji, its international politics, and its internal ethnic relations. The book concludes with the death of Timoci Bavadra in late 1989.
A perceptive case study of racial politics in the modern world and a significant new approach to the understanding of the dynamics of a non-western political system, Fiji: Race and Politics in an Island State provides a timely and comprehensive analysis of recent events in this important island state.