Fiji

Article excerpt

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In April, the South Pacific island of Fiji was once again thrown into turmoil when military leader Frank Bainimarama sent security forces to occupy the central bank and foreign journalists were expelled. The president of Fiji, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, a supporter of 'Prime Minister' Bainimarama, also closed down the country's judiciary and dissolved the constitution in order to ensure that his ally continued in office. The apparent trigger was a court ruling declaring that the military government led by Bainimarama was illegal.

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This certainly wasn't the first time Fiji has experienced political upheaval. A former British colony, it gained independence in October 1970 and since then, it has seen a succession of democratic governments and military regimes come to power.

Composed of more than 800 islands and islets with a total land area of around 18,000 square kilometres, Fiji's economy is dominated by exports such as sugar, timber and fishing products, as well as tourism.

The country's history of political turmoil has unquestionably been shaped by its demographic profile: 57 per cent of the population of around 940,000 are of Fijian/Melanesian descent, while 37 per cent are of Indian origins. The latter are a legacy of the British use of indentured labour from South Asia to harvest sugar; between 1879 and 1916, more than 60,000 labourers were brought to the islands.

During the 1980s, ethnic and political schisms were exposed, ushering in a period of political instability that continues to this day. In May 1987, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka seized power after an earlier election saw an Indian-dominated coalition take power and end the long dominance of the Fijian-dominated Alliance Party.

The supreme court ruled the coup unconstitutional, and the governor-general brokered an agreement for the creation of a government of national unity, in which both the deposed coalition and the Alliance Party would be represented under his leadership. Rabuka saw this as a threat to the gains of the first coup and staged a second on 25 September, proclaiming Fiji a republic. The country was expelled from the Commonwealth, regional neighbours suspended aid and ethnic Indians began to flee the country in response to fears that they would be further marginalised. …