Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An Expat's View of Fiji Politics

I had planned to tell resort construction "war stories" next but since there's such intense interest in Fiji politics (especially in Australia and New Zealand!) let's go THERE....with some history first and then current events!

I've been here since 1997 so my knowledge of events prior to that time is anecdotal. Fiji was a British colony until 1971. The Brits brought citizens of India to Fiji to work the sugar cane fields in the mid-1800's -- the Fijians wouldn't do it. Neither would the Japanese who were brought in before the Indians! The "deal" for the Indians was a 7 year indenture after which they could stay in Fiji or have a ticket back to India -- many stayed and over the years, many have prospered. Most of the businesses in Fiji are now "Fiji-Indian"-owned.

The Brits helped set up a Parliament and a Senate (like the House of Lords -- the members are appointed), and also the "Great Council of Chiefs" to protect the interests of the indigenous Fijians. They also set up British bureaucracy -- never ending red tape -- much of which is still in place today! Fijians own 87% of all land in Fiji (either communally or in trust with the government, like Crown Land).

Political parties were formed (mostly race-based). The Prime Minister in the 1986-87 time frame was pro-Indian which resulted in the two 1987 "coups" held within a couple of months of each other) -- the Fijians were afraid the Indians would take over the country. The 1987 coups were military -- led by Colonel Rabuka -- and there was some bloodshed. When I arrived in Fiji 10 years later, Rabuka was Prime Minister, having been "elected" to the position by virtue of his political party winning. (Here, like other parliamentary systems, you don't vote directly for the Prime Minister.) For the 1999 election Rabuka formed a coalition with the business-focused Indian political party, with the purpose of sharing power between the races. That caused the nationalistic Fijians to split off, diluting the Fijian vote, resulting in Chaudry (a Fiji-Indian from the Fiji Labour Party) becoming Prime Minister.

The two major races here get along just fine - unless they're politicians.

Chaudry pissed off the Fijians in a lot of ways ~ the trigger was over the sale of mahogany. Fiji has the largest mahogany reserve in the world and there was a sales contract already in place. Chaudry decided to sell the mahogany to another company for less money (the timber is on Fijian-owned land). Parliament was in an uproar -- the word on the street was that a "no confidence vote" was going to be held and Chaudry would be out. The Friday before that vote (this is in May 2000), the nationalistic Fijians marched on Parliament (and trashed stores in Suva on the way) and took it over -- if only they'd waited out the weekend..... They held the Parliamentarians hostage for almost 2 months. That "coup" was supported by the Methodist Church, the largest Fijian Christian denomination. There was also an Army "mutiny" attempt and bloodshed.

After the 2000 coup situation calmed down, Qarase was "appointed" as the new Prime Minister. He ran for election in 2005 and his party won but without a sufficient majority so he was required to "share" the government with the Fiji Labour Party (Chaudry) -- what a mess (one of the weird provisions of the now-defunct Constitution). There were over 30 Cabinet Ministers (this is a country of 850,000 people!!) and lots of fighting about who got which portfolio. As a result, nothing got done. There was a lawsuit before 2005 with the High Court ruling that the Chaudry government had to be restored -- Qarase ignored it. Ironically, the Aussies and Kiwis didn't raise a fuss about that AT ALL! Qarase made lots of promises to the nationalistic Fijians (who do not want ANY Indians here). His government also handed out millions of dollars worth of equipment (tools, boats, motors) to the indigenous Fijians in the months before the 2005 election.

Pro-indigenous legislation that was in the mill caused the 2006 "coup" by Commodore Bainimarama. The legislation included a tribunal to determine "monetary recompense" to Fijians whose ancestors had sold their land years and years ago (who determines the value and pays for that???); a "get out of jail free" card for the 2000 coup perpetrators; and the ceding of "ownership" of ALL Fiji waters to the indigenous Fijians. Beaches, water, reefs, sand -- everything -- with non-owners having to pay for access. There was a similar attempt by the Maori in New Zealand which failed there -- "the sea belongs to everyone and cannot be owned". Bainimarama announced in November 2006 that he was taking over the government but instead of it happening the Friday he'd planned, it was delayed until the following Monday so everyone could enjoy a previously scheduled rugby game! No shots were fired. The Aussies & Kiwis threw a fit -- travel advisories; warnings that Fiji wasn't safe.

I maintained then and I still do that it's a lot safer HERE than on the streets of Sydney or Auckland! Or LA or London.......

The constitution that's been abrogated had a number of worrisome provisions in it. The one that's most egregious requires that people have to register by RACE and can only vote for a member of their OWN RACE. Democracy? Hardly!! Voter registration had to be redone for EVERY election -- a big mess with lots of "issues" in previous registration drives & people disappearing from the register.

That's enough for starters!


  1. Upon reading your thank you notes to the people from Air Pacific, I realized how much care and personal attention we really did receive. We have been back now for almost a week and have had time to look back on different aspects of the trip. The Fiji flight was so well planned with considerations like travel at night, food before and after the sleeping time and so many great people working the floor of the plane. But on the return, with the broken leg situation to deal with, the service was stepped up even more. As you mentioned before, airline personnel were notified and the ball began rolling. Each employee we came in contact with knew of my wife's unfortunate happening and were ready to provide the extra service that made the trip home as comfortable as possible. Our thanks also goes to all the Pacific Air employees involved for the outstanding support given on that day. Our
    arrival at LAX continued the same professional treatment. We were met by an APS employee named Victoria Simbadon who escorted us from the plane door to the car door. This involved baggage pickup, customs and travel all the way to the parking lot. Without the excellent communications you spoke of in the Nadi Airport, Figi and the great people mentioned there, all the way to the U.S. completing our vacation under those extreme circumstances, Mrs. Keyes could not have made it back as easily and safely as she did. Her surgery went well and the road to recovery will be a smooth one thanks to excellent, personal care. Yes, we will be returning to Lomalagi next year to finish the vacation we started. Collin, you are a special person offering a complete, and I mean complete and super wonderful experience there at your resort. Our sincere thanks go out to you along with Wise, Tats, Moto, Sam and all the rest of the best staff a person could ever have.
    Veenaka and see you soon!