Elections in Asia and the Pacific: A Data Handbook: South East Asia, East Asia and the South Pacific - Vol. 2

By Dieter Nohlen; Florian Grotz et al. | Go to book overview

Fiji Islands

by Christof Hartmann*


1 Introduction

1.1 Historical Overview

In hardly any other country covered in this handbook has the controversy over appropriate electoral rules dominated the political process to such an extent as in the Fiji Islands. The importance attached to elections and electoral provisions is derived from the particular ethnic composition of the country. Since the 1950s the indigenous Melanesian population was outnumbered by the descendants of migrant workers from India (Indo-Fijians). After independence in 1968 the need to protect the political and cultural supremacy of the indigenous populations continually clashed with the universal idea of equal political rights for all citizens, embodied in the principle of free and fair elections to national offices. The democratic process was interrupted on two occasions by nationalist military forces, when all sophisticated institutional engineering failed to prevent Indo-Fijian parties (1987) and an Indo-Fijian Prime Minister (1999) from assuming government.

The British colonial rule in the approximately 300-island archipelago (with Viti Levu and Vanua Levu as main islands) had tried to preserve the traditional Fijian society by establishing a Council of Chiefs, prohibiting the sale of land and the hiring of Fijians as plantation workers. In order to satisfy the demands of European farmers, between 1879 and 1916 the British brought indentured workers from India to Fiji, most of whom stayed. To them, large inflows of free Indian migrants were added. These Indo-Fijians maintained distinct religious, social, and linguistic practices and concentrated on commercial activities, especially in the sugar industry. By the early 1950s the Indo-Fijians had outnumbered the native Melanesian population. Already in the 1920s Indo-Fijians realized that the colonial policy of separate economic and political treatment was largely designed to protect Fijian interests.

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