Fiji’s Problem History

From the July 2000 Trumpet Print Edition

Fiji’s problems started developing years ago. In 1858 Britain appointed a consul, then in 1874 assumed sovereignty. Between 1880 and 1920 the British arranged for 63,000 Indians to travel to Fiji to work the sugar-cane industry in the west. Most settled there, and the generations to follow built up successful businesses, mainly in the south and west of the main island, Veti Levu. The indigenous Fijians own the land, but had granted long-term leases to the Indians. Many of these leases are now up for renewal, but the Fijians are loathe to renew them, because they wish to gain a greater share of the country’s wealth.

In 1970 Fiji was granted independence from Britain. In 1987 army Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka led two coups, and Fiji was declared a republic. The country was expelled from the British Commonwealth of Nations, although it has continued to retain Queen Elizabeth’s image on its currency. Expulsion set Fiji back years economically, and it has only just been getting back on its feet—that is, until Speight’s recent coup attempt.

In 1990 a new Constitution redefined the parliament, giving 37 seats to Fijians, 27 to Indians, general voters 5 and Rotumans 1. Sitiveni Rabuka was elected prime minister in 1992.

In 1997 the Constitution was amended, giving indigenous Fijians 23 seats, Indians 19, Rotumans 1, and general electors 3, leaving a total of 25 seats open to all races. It was then that Fiji was readmitted to the British Commonwealth of Nations. Rabuka remained prime minister until losing to Mahendra Chaudry on May 19, 1999.

Now George Speight and his supporters demand that the Indians be prevented from voting and that the government be run by indigenous Fijians.