Fiji's original population was Melanesians, with a touch
of Polynesians. In 1643 Dutch explorer Abel Tasman came to
Fiji as the first European. There were many tribal wars in
the 19th century; in 1871–1873 an unsuccessful attempt to
establish a kingdom was made.
The country was a British colony in 1874-1970. This led
to large-scale immigration of Indian plantation workers on
British initiative, and the Indians became the largest group
of people. Immigration stopped in 1917.
Fiji gained internal autonomy from 1966 and full
independence in October 1970.
Strong ethnic contradictions between Melanesians (ethnic
Fijians) and Indians have characterized political life. Ratu
Sir Kamisese Mara was prime minister in 1970–1987. His
Melanesian Alliance Party lost the election in 1987, and the
first government with Indians in majority was formed. It was
immediately overthrown by a military coup led by Colonel,
later General, Sitiveni Rabuka.
Fiji was a member of the British Commonwealth with the
British monarch as head of state. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Fiji. The Queen's representative
refused to accept the military regime. Rabuka carried out a
new coup in September 1987, abolished the constitution,
deposed the queen, declared Fiji as a republic and exited
The Constitution was amended in 1990 so that the
Melanesians were secured a majority in the National
Assembly. The Prime Minister must also be Melanesian. Mara
now returned as head of government; the coup leader Rabuka
joined the government and took over as prime minister in
The upheaval in 1987 had significant consequences for
Fiji's economy and its relationship with the outside world.
Discrimination was lodged by the Indian team. Many,
especially those with higher education, emigrated. Thus, the
indigenous people became minorities in the population in
1989, with a declining share in the following years.
New constitution and new coup
In 1997, Fiji was given a new constitution without open
racial discrimination. The same year, the country again
became a member of the British Commonwealth. Following the
1999 elections, Mahendra Chaudhry Fiji's first indicted
prime minister. His only years in power were dramatic, with
violence and civil disobedience from Fiji nationalists. On
May 19, 2000, a group of armed men entered the Parliament
building; Chaudhry and 30 other ministers and top officials
were held hostage for eight weeks.
The coup leader George Speight launched himself as a
champion of the indigenous people and threatened to kill the
hostages. Indians were subjected to violence and harassment.
On July 4, the military deployed a civilian interim
government without indiscriminate government ministers under
Laisenia Qarase. On July 29, Speight was arrested along with
many of his followers; The coup leader was sentenced to
death for treason in 2002, but the sentence was later turned
into life imprisonment.
In the 2001 election, Laisenia Qarase triumphed with its
new United People's Party (SDL). In contravention of the
Constitution, he formed a purely Fijian government, but in
2003 the Supreme Court ordered him to give the indicted
Labor Party (Labor Party) prime ministers a seat in the
Under a new coup regime in 2006, two elections could have
laid the foundation for democratization, but led to strong
political turbulence and a new military coup. The army
declared the election results invalid and took the
government under the command of Defense Chief, Commander
Frank Bainimarama. Bainimarama has been prime minister since
Prior to the coup, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo had been
re-elected by the Board of Governors for a new five-year
term. Two months later, the parliamentary elections gave a
stiff majority, and thus renewed mandate, to Prime Minister
Qarase and his United Nationalist Party (SDL). The largest
opposition party - the Indian-dominated Labor Party - also
retained its ministerial posts. The two dominant parties
reflect the polarization between ethnic Fijians
(Melanesians) and the indigenous part of the population. The
ethnic divide still forms a deep political schism.
After the re-election, Qarase presented a contentious
bill for amnesty for some of the leaders of the coup in
2000. The controversy was also a decision on the allocation
of land to ethnic Fijians. After a few months of political
tug of war, Commander Josaia Bainimarama seized power on
December 5, 2006. The coup leader accused the government of
being corrupt and of discriminating against ethnic Indians.
Bainimarama gave himself the post of prime minister, but
allowed President Iloilo to continue. Mahendra Chaudhry,
Fiji's first indicted prime minister, who was overthrown by
a coup in 2000, received important cabinet positions in the
The coup in 2006 caused international condemnation. Fiji
was banned from the British Commonwealth, and EU aid was
frozen until elections were held. Australia, New Zealand and
the smaller neighboring states imposed sanctions.
Bainimarama declared that he needed time to clean up the
corruption after previously elected governments.
In September 2007, he declared his state of emergency
following persistent rumors of a counter-coup. In November,
an announcement came that the counter-coup had been
thwarted. Several high-ranking officers and politicians were
arrested. Allegations that Australia and New Zealand should
have participated in preparations for a counter-coup were
strongly opposed by both countries. Fiji has traditionally
had a close relationship with Australia - politically,
commercially and militarily.
At the turn of the year 2007/2008, Bainimarama announced
a plan to return to a parliamentary system in 2010. As a
self-appointed prime minister, in February 2009 he also
appointed chairman of Fiji's traditional chieftaincy
council. He himself had dissolved the old chief council
because it did not accept the one he had appointed as the
country's vice president. Bainimarama authorized himself to
appoint all 52 members of the chief council on the
recommendation of local councils. The previous council had
62 members, including some lifelong members. In the new
chief council, the term of office for all is limited to
three years. Fiji has 225 local executives who are entitled
to the title of title.
After a new political turmoil, the military seized power
in April 2009. A higher court had declared Bainimarama's
three-year-old military regime illegal this month, demanding
early re-election. Bainimarama's close ally, 88-year-old and
morbid President Iloilo, then fought back against the court.
The President rescinded the Constitution, fired the judges
and reinstated Bainimarama as prime minister.
Elections were now postponed. Bainimarama justified this
because Fiji needed a new electoral system to dampen ethnic
tensions that had triggered previous coups in 1987 and 2000.
Others argued that regardless of electoral regime, Fiji
would be equally characterized by political divisions on
ethnic grounds. The announcement that Fiji would remain a
military regime for another five years, with elections only
in September 2014, prompted new international criticism.
Fiji was now ousted from the Pacific Pacific Forum, which
had set an ultimatum demanding new elections in 2009.
After several years of delays, a Democratic election was
held on September 17, 2014. Bainimarama's party FijiFirst
won by 59.2 percent of the vote, and the election was
considered credible by international observers.
Since independence in 1970, Fiji has participated in many
of the UN peacekeeping operations. Following pressure from
Australia and New Zealand, this role was significantly
reduced by the UN in 2007. Without the peace role, it is
doubtful whether Fiji's military would become strong enough
to act as coup makers. The country had only 200 military
servicemen at independence in 1970, but after UN
participation in Lebanon and Sinai, that number had doubled
in 1986. The following year came the first military coup.
In total, nearly 25,000 Fiji soldiers have participated
in UN operations, a very large figure for a nation with just
under one million inhabitants. The UN soldiers have
contributed significantly to GDP and the country's foreign
The economy has been among Prime Minister Bainimarama's
biggest challenges. Economic growth has been low at less
than 1% annually since the turn of the millennium, and
forecasts indicate a negative growth. Lower tax revenues
have forced Bainimarama to cut government spending by 30%.
In April 2009, the Fiji dollar was devalued by 20% in order
to increase exports and attract more tourists to the island
The tourism industry accounts for approx. 30% of GDP and
employ most with 23,400 employees. Fiji noted near record
with over 500,000 foreign tourists in 2008, but in 2009
there was a steep decline following new political
turbulence. Australia and New Zealand have discouraged
visits, both on principle and because the safety of the main
island of Suva is considered questionable. 56% of tourists
in 2008 came from Australia/New Zealand, 15% from Europe.