The Failure of Democratic Politics in Fiji

By Stephanie Lawson | Go to book overview

Conclusion

For the first seventeen years following independence, it appeared that Fiji had been successful in establishing and maintaining a relatively stable form of democratic government in a plural society. As Premdas remarks, Fiji seemed to represent, during this time, 'a unique case history in the Third World where a system of ethnic conflict management had worked for over a decade and a half'.1 In light of the events following the election of the Bavadra government, however, it is apparent that the polity in Fiji lacked the essential foundations for the successful conduct of democratic politics. The relatively open democratic institutions of government in Fiji were tolerated by a powerful sector within the Fijian community only so long as the party of the chiefly establishment--the Alliance--retained power. To this extent, Scarr's assertion that the overthrow of the elected government on 14 May 1987 demonstrated the 'politics of illusion' has some validity.2 Nevertheless, I would not support his central argument that it was entirely inevitable nor, especially, that those who supported the coalition had no right to expect that it should be allowed to govern.

We have noted at the outset that Scarr's analysis also strongly supports the notion, used widely by supporters of the coup, that racial animosities and tensions, and fear for the rights and interests of the indigenous people in particular, lie at the heart of the problem. Race is obviously a crucial factor in any analysis of politics in Fiji. As we have seen, it has shaped much of Fiji's colonial history, it was a major determinant of the development of the political institutions of independent Fiji, and has overshadowed the quest for power on both sides of politics. But whether the coup of 14 May was caused essentially by racial factors is another matter entirely. Indigenous rights were not endangered by the Bavadra government and there is no

____________________
1
Ralph Premdas, "'Fiji: Elections and Communal Conflict in the First Military Coup d'État'", Ethnic Studies Report, 5 ( 1987).
2
Deryck Scarr, Fiji: Politics of Illusion: The Military Coups in Fiji ( Kensington, 1988).

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