Republic of Fiji country brief
The Republic of the Fiji Islands is a group of 800 volcanic and coral islands covering 18,376 sq. km. It has a total population of 868,000 (UN, 2011). Fiji's capitol is Suva. Its major languages are English, Fijian, Hindi and its major religions are Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.
Fiji became independent in 1970 after nearly a century as a British colony. On independence, Fiji adopted a constitutional democratic form of government based on the Westminster model.
Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987 led by then Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. Rabuka abrogated the 1970 Constitution and declared Fiji a republic. A short period of military government and two subsequent interim administrations followed and a new constitution was promulgated on 25 July 1990, with elections held in May 1992. Subsequently, after extensive consultations, a new Constitution was adopted in 1997.
Fiji suffered another period of political, social and economic instability beginning on 19 May 2000, when a group led by George Speight seized control of the Parliament and took hostage then Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and members of his government, holding them for 56 days. In the following months, the 1997 Constitution was abrogated, the President stepped down and three successive unelected interim administrations were in power.
In 2001, the Fiji High Court and Court of Appeal ruled that the 1997 Constitution remained valid. General elections were held in August 2001 and Fiji returned to parliamentary democracy under Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who had led the caretaker and interim governments for the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) Party. Prime Minister Qarase's SDL Government was returned to office with a narrow majority at the elections held in May 2006.
Prime Minister Qarase was ousted in a military coup on 5 December 2006 led by Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. Bainimarama dismissed the democratically-elected Qarase government and declared a state of emergency. He subsequently claimed to have returned executive authority to the President, who then appointed Bainimarama 'interim Prime Minister'.
On 9 April 2009, the Fiji High Court found that Qarase's dismissal and Bainimarama's appointment had been illegal. In response, on 10 April 2009 Fiji President Ratu Josefa Iloilo announced that he had abrogated Fiji's 1997 Constitution. He declared himself Head of State and said that Fiji would be ruled under a New Legal Order. The 1997 constitution was abrogated, all judicial appointments were revoked and Public Emergency Regulations (PERs) were imposed. President Iloilo subsequently reappointed interim Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama and all nine members of the previous Interim Cabinet. The interim Government declared that elections would be held in 2014.
Pacific Islands Forum Leaders decided on 2 May 2009 to suspend Fiji from the Forum. Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth in September 2009.
On 1 July 2009, interim Prime Minister Bainimarama announced Fiji's strategic framework for change, the 'roadmap'. He announced that work on a new constitution for Fiji would begin in September 2012 and would be completed a year before elections in September 2014.
The regime lifted the PERs in January 2012 to allow discussion ahead of the constitution, but these were quickly replaced by the Public Order (Amendment) Decree, which reintroduced key provisions of the PERs, including the control of persons, power to detain and arrest, and prohibition and dispersal of assemblies.
On 9 March 2012, interim Prime Minister Bainimarama announced that a regime appointed Constitutional Commission would conduct public consultations before drafting a constitution, which would then be submitted to a Constituent Assembly for consideration.
The Constitutional Commission, chaired by internationally respected expert Professor Yash Ghai, presented a draft constitution to Fiji President Nailatikau on 21 December 2012. The draft was not officially released to the public after police confiscated all (599) printed copies on 20 December 2012 and burned the printing proofs in front of Professor Ghai on 22 December 2012. The leaked draft was publicly welcomed by opposition parties. On 10 January 2013, Prime Minister Bainimarama and President Nailatikau said the Fiji Government would prepare its own draft constitution to be considered by the Constituent Assembly, drawing on the 'Ghai draft'.
Interim Prime Minister Bainimarama announced on 21 March 2013 a further modification of the constitutional process. The draft constitution would no longer be debated by a Constituent Assembly, but would be open for public comment for two weeks to 5 April 2013, with the aim of having the text completed by 12 April 2013. The draft constitution has been released on a government website and will be published in instalments in the Fiji Sun.
The 2006 coup, like its predecessors, has had significant economic consequences for Fiji and for the living standards of its people. The uncertain political and economic climate has impacted negatively on investor sentiment. The military regime continues to interfere in the economy, including through the appointment of military figures and regime supporters to senior board positions.
The Asian Development bank forecasts GDP growth of 1.7% in 2013 for Fiji on the back of continued growth in construction, mining, and tourism. Since the 2006 coup Fiji's economy has been stagnant (compared to 2.5% growth in the years preceding the coup).
Sugar is Fiji's largest export industry. Already struggling, in large part because of inefficient mills and lack of resolution of the land lease system, the sugar industry suffered significant infrastructure damage and lost production during the January 2009 floods. The industry continues to struggle.
Australia and Fiji have long-standing strong commercial and people-to-people links. Up to 50,000 Fijians live and work in Australia and approximately 300,000 Australians visit Fiji each year. Australia is Fiji's key trading and commercial partner in the region and is the largest foreign investor in Fiji. Two-way trade is worth nearly AUD1.8 billion annually and in 2010-11, Australia was Fiji's second largest export destination and second largest source of imports.
Fiji continues to benefit from privileged access to Australian markets. The Australian Government decided in December last year to extend the SPARTECA-TCF scheme, which facilitates duty free access to Australia for textiles, clothing and footwear products manufactured in Forum Island Countries. Extension of the scheme will provide some assistance to companies as they adjust to the competitive international trade environment.
Australian companies continue to seek out business opportunities in Fiji. The Australian Government, through Austrade, continues to help Australian companies to maximise business opportunities in Fiji.
Australia's response to the 2006 coup
The Australian Government strongly condemned the abrogation of Fiji's Constitution and the military's unconstitutional removal of Fiji's elected government in 2006. The United Nations Security Council, the Commonwealth Secretary General and the United Nations Secretary General have all called for a prompt return to constitutional democracy in Fiji and a respect for the values of free speech, human rights and the rule of law which underpin it.
In response to the 2006 coup, Australia imposed travel restrictions on Bainimarama, his supporters and their families. These restrictions also apply to members of the interim Government, military officers and their families. In addition travel to Australia by rank and file members of the Fiji military forces is restricted, but not travel by their families. The Australian Government has implemented these travel sanctions flexibly, granting exceptions on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, and other exceptional circumstances.
Since 2006, defence cooperation and regular ministerial-level contact with the interim Government has been suspended.
In response to the regime's announcement of constitutional consultations, the Australian Foreign Minister has met his Fiji counterpart on several occasions to discuss developments in Fiji and reaffirm Australia's commitment to helping Fiji return to democracy.
At a trilateral Australia, Fiji, New Zealand foreign ministers meeting in July 2012, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji agreed in July 2012 to reinstate High Commissioners in our capitals.
Australia remains committed to helping Fiji return to democracy and the rule of law. We have provided $2.65 million to support Fiji's constitutional and electoral processes, including supporting the Constitutional Commission, electronic voter registration and civil education programs.
Australia remains the largest bilateral aid donor to Fiji. Our ongoing development assistance in 2012-13 will be $55 million. Our aid program aims to mitigate the economic and social impacts of the 2006 coup and the global recession by providing social protection and financial inclusion measures to support vulnerable communities; supporting health and education systems; and partnering with civil society and regional organisations to promote an environment for improved governance. Australia continues to provide scholarships for study in Australia and the region.
Updated April 2013