Fiji: Race and Politics in an Island State

Fiji: Race and Politics in an Island State

Fiji: Race and Politics in an Island State

Fiji: Race and Politics in an Island State


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.


When I first thought of writing a book on Fiji shortly after the May 1987 coup, I anticipated producing something with a fairly limited focus -- the coup itself and the events leading up to it. It did not take long to realize that such an approach would not do justice to the complexities of Fijian politics, and that what was needed was a study that placed the coup carefully within a broader historical and geopolitical context. Thus the book began to grow. But as it grew, events in Fiji continued to unfold, including a second coup in September 1987, that made it essential for me to examine the May coup's aftermath as well. It then became a question of where to stop. In the back of my mind was a fear that as soon as the book went to press there would be another major development. Nevertheless, with this nagging concern in mind, I decided that an appropriate place to put a stop to what otherwise could have become an endless project was the death of Timoci Bavadra in late 1989.

Writing this book has not been easy, in large part because I found myself too close to many of the events. In looking back over the period since the May coup, I am now glad that I delayed completion of the manuscript. The delay allowed my thoughts to mature and my analysis, hopefully, to become more objective. I was also able to check on reported events more carefully. Unfortunately, this did not always mean finding the answers that I sought, and I still find myself confronted with numerous unanswered questions. Although my sense of outrage remains undiminished, I have done my best not to allow such personal feelings to distort the account that follows.

Among those that are due a special note of thanks for their assistance in preparation of the manuscript are Marian Wilkinson, Wendy Bacon, Simione Durutalo, 'Atu Bain, Bill Pinwill, John Con nell . . .

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