Ethnic politics and inequality in Fiji: understanding the new Constitution - article ; n°1 ; vol.96, pg 63-75


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Journal de la Société des océanistes - Année 1993 - Volume 96 - Numéro 1 - Pages 63-75
Les régimes inégaux et répressifs sont devenus le type prédominant dans les sociétés plurielles du Tiers-Monde. Très peu d'arrangements sont apparus pour réconcilier les revendications divergentes des groupes ethniques dans un état et pour préserver en même temps un minimum de démocratie et de stabilité. L'inégalité et la domination ethniques sont devenues les nouvelles normes. Dans cet article, nous examinons le cas des Iles Fiji, en considérant les modes d'inégalité et de répression qui se sont manifestés dans la nouvelle constitution (1990) de ce petit état du Pacifique Sud.
Regimes of inequality and repression have become the predominant pattern in the plural societies of the Third World. Very few consociational arrangements for sharing power have emerged to reconcile the divergent claims of the ethnic elements in the state so as to preserve a modicum of democracy and stability simultaneously. Inequality and ethnic domination have become the new norms. In this article, we examine the Fiji case looking at the patterns of inequality and repression that have emerged in the new 1990 constitution of this mini South Pacific state.
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Ralph R. Premdas
Jeffrey S. Steeves
Ethnic politics and inequality in Fiji: understanding the new
In: Journal de la Société des océanistes. 96, 1993-1. pp. 63-75.
Les régimes inégaux et répressifs sont devenus le type prédominant dans les sociétés plurielles du Tiers-Monde. Très peu
d'arrangements sont apparus pour réconcilier les revendications divergentes des groupes ethniques dans un état et pour
préserver en même temps un minimum de démocratie et de stabilité. L'inégalité et la domination sont devenues les
nouvelles normes. Dans cet article, nous examinons le cas des Iles Fiji, en considérant les modes d'inégalité et de répression qui
se sont manifestés dans la nouvelle constitution (1990) de ce petit état du Pacifique Sud.
Regimes of inequality and repression have become the predominant pattern in the plural societies of the Third World. Very few
consociational arrangements for sharing power have emerged to reconcile the divergent claims of the ethnic elements in the state
so as to preserve a modicum of democracy and stability simultaneously. Inequality and ethnic domination have become the new
norms. In this article, we examine the Fiji case looking at the patterns of inequality and repression that have emerged in the new
1990 constitution of this mini South Pacific state.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Premdas Ralph R., Steeves Jeffrey S. Ethnic politics and inequality in Fiji: understanding the new Constitution. In: Journal de la
Société des océanistes. 96, 1993-1. pp. 63-75.
doi : 10.3406/jso.1993.2921 politics and inequality in Fiji :
understanding the new Constitution *
by Ralph R. PREMDAS ♦♦ and Jeffrey STEEVES ***
Although not inevitable, inequality and repres new order of inequality was laid at the very
sion appear to be endemic features of multi-ethnic founding of the multi-ethnic state so that the
plural societies, especially those in the independent contemporary situation represents a basic conti
states of the Third World. J. S. Furnivall, the father nuity with the past. We present the materials in
of the plural society model, argued that the internal three parts. First, we look at the colonial
cultural diversity of these societies, lacking a administration from the perspective of the early
common shared social will, required an " umpire " introduction of suffrage. We note in particular the
to maintain order and stability '. In colonial times, principle of communalism at work in the system of
this role of an umpire was performed by the representation that was used at that time. In the
colonial administration which had an interest in second part, we examine the inequalities which
maintaining the cleavages of a deeply divided state. were institutionalized in the independence consti
At independence, the multi-ethnic Third World tution of 1970. In the third part, we set forth the
states faced the formidable challenge of forging provisions of the post- 1987 coup constitution to
into existence unified entities for political stability show how the inequalities have been elaborated
and economic development. The new nationalist further. We must begin these three sections,
governing elites had inherited equalitarian however, by providing a brief survey of Fiji's
constitutions which entrenched protection for society.
minority rights. It was, however, not long there
after that the effort at welding the multi-ethnic
fabric failed and, on the contrary, the demands of Fin : The Making of a Plural Society.
ethnic segments became inflamed with each seeking
its own self-determination. Fiji sits at a strategic point in the South Pacific
Ethno-national challenges to the unity of the new between Hawaii and Australia encompassing some
states of the Third World have frequently been met 844 islands in the group. The two largest islands are
by repression which in turn has led to the Vanua Levu and Viti Levu which together comprise
overthrow of the independence constitutions and approximately 87 % of the total land area of
their safeguards for ethnic minorities. Regimes of 7,055 square miles. Viti Levu (4,010 square miles),
inequality and repression have become the pr the largest of the two islands, is nearly twice the
edominant pattern in the plural societies of the size of Vanua Levu (2,137 square miles) and
Third World. Very few consociational arrange dominates life in Fiji generally. It contains 75 % of
ments for sharing power have emerged to reconcile the total population and accounts for the most
the divergent claims of the ethnic elements in the productive facilities in the country including its
state so as to preserve a modicum of democracy sugarfields, factories, hotels, and commercial
enterprises as well as the capital city, Suva. The and stability simultaneously. Inequality and ethnic
domination have become the new norms. capital is a vibrant financial and commercial centre
The pattern needs accurate description and as well as being the seat of government. Indians
plausible explanation. In this article, we examine constitute about 55 % of the population on the two
the Fiji case looking at the patterns of inequality islands, and Fijians only about 38 %. The surroun
and repression that have emerged in the new consti ding islands, some 100 of which are permanently
tution of this mini South Pacific state. We do not inhabited, are populated predominantly by indige
argue that inequality and repression were inevita nous Fijians who subsist mainly on traditional agri
ble ; nor do we prescribe such a political order. We culture, fishing, and copra harvesting.
hypothesize however that the background to the The country was colonized formally on October
* The authors wish to gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council of Canada which allowed us to undertake field research in Fiji from 1986 through to 1990.
** Centre for Developing Area Studies McGill University, Montreal.
*•• Department of Political Studies University of Saskatchewan Saskatoon, Canada.
1. J. S. Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice (London : Cambridge University Press, 1948), pp. 304-312. 64 SOCIÉTÉ DES OCÉANISTES
lOth, 1874, when Chief Cakobau ceded Fiji to traditional Fijian culture by establishing a state
Great Britain. The Deed of Cession is viewed by within a state, their insulation ensured that they
indigenous Fijians as their Magna Carta. The Deed would be almost totally unprepared to compete
bound Britain to protect Fijians from European effectively with the Europeans and Indians once
commercial interests and to preserve the Fijian way their circle of interaction expanded beyond the vil
lage. The result was the institutionalization of of life. To halt the steady decline of Fijian customs,
Sir Arthur Gordon, the first British governor of Fijian economic inferiority.
Fiji, initiated three policies that laid the cornerstone By the mid-1980s, about 40 % of all Fijians still
of communalism. First, all land that was not yet subsisted mainly in villages. The typical Fijian wor
alienated to Europeans, consisting of nearly 90 % ker in the monetized modern sector tends to maint
of the country, was to remain under Fijian ain intimate material connections with his or her
ownership. This policy curtailed economic develop village. The Fijian community continues to own
ment of the islands because growth depended upon about 83 % of the land, which is held communally
the availability of Fijian land for commercial by over 7,000 patrilineal groups. Fijians who no
exploitation. Land, then, became an issue. The longer rely on their villages for their income are
second policy was the importation of labour to employed by the government as policemen, army
substitute for Fijians to work on large foreign- officers, teachers, nurses, medical officers, office
owned sugar plantations. Protection of the Fijian workers, and so on. The government services have
way of life required that not only their land which given rise to a well-to-do Fijian middle class. Many
was an integral part of their traditional culture be regard the public service as their preeminent
kept from alienation, but also that the people be domain, much as many Indians regard the commerc
free the labour impositions of European plan ial and sugar sectors as their preserve 5. Fijian
tations. The plantations were the financial penetration of the business sector has been
backbone of the fledgling colony and the major generally unsuccessful, even with special pro
source of revenue for the colonial government. grammes designed to initiate them into the
Moreover, plantations require cheap and abundant commercial world. Fijian culture, being communal,
labour to survive2. noncompetitive, and nonprofit oriented, has been
Denied this source from among the indigenous blamed for the poor performance 6. To date, Fijians
population, Governor Gordon recommended the own very few businesses, which are almost totally
importation of indentured labourers from India as in Indian, European, and Chinese hands, and
had been done elsewhere in British Guiana, consequently, they contribute less than 10 % of the
Mauritius and Trinidad. From 1879 when the national tax. Because of the tight competition they
labour indentureship was inaugurated until 1916 face in other sectors, Fijians have found it neces
when it was terminated, about 60,537 Indians were sary to protect the ownership of their land. Land
brought to Fiji 3. About one-half returned to India, is their main resource base from which they can
the rest remained under a scheme that allowed bargain politically with other groups in Fijian
them to become legal residents " with privileges no society.
whit inferior to those of any other class of Her The Indians who remained in Fiji leased or
Majesty's subjects resident in the colonies " 4. The bought land on which they planted their own cane ;
Indian population grew steadily, finally outstrip by the end of World War II, they owned practically
ping the Fijians by 1945 and becoming a majority the entire sugar-growing business. Today, some
of the total population by 1966. From the policy of 80 % of cane farmers are Indian smallholders.
labour migration, then, a new community was However, most of the land they farm is leased from
engrafted onto Fiji. Fijians, transforming what would normally be a
The third policy was the establishment of a powerful political base into a tinder box of commun
separate Native Fijian administration through al conflict. Sugar is the most significant crop of
which the British governed the Fijians indirectly ; the economy providing more than half of Fiji's
as with Buganda in Uganda, the Fijian hierarchical foreign reserves7.
political structure was recognized, and Fijian chiefs Only about 3 to 6 % of the Indians came to Fiji
continued to govern their own people. The conti as free settlers, mainly Gujeratis, and by 1936 numb
nuity of traditional leadership was thus assured. ered about 2,500 8. They established businesses,
While this policy substantially preserved the but were later joined by other Indians who left the
2. For an excellent treatment of this relationship, see Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (London : Andre
Deutsch, 1964), pp. 3-30.
3. See Ahmed Ali, " The Indians of Fiji ", Economic and Political Weekly, 8:36 (September 8, 1973), p. 1955.
4. These words, known as the " Salisbury Dispatch ", are often quoted by Indians to assert their rights in Fiji.
5. For a brief description of the results of qualifying examinations which are used as a basis for civil service jobs,
see Report of the Public Service Commission, 1967, p. 5.
6. See R. F. Watters, Koro : Economic Development and Social Change in Fiji (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1969),
pp. 1-48.
7. E. K. Fisk, The Political Economy of Independent Fiji (Canberra : Australian National University Press, 1970),
pp. 16-17. For a recent overview of the Fijian economy, see : Christopher Browne, Economic Development in Seven
Pacific Island Countries (Washington : International Monetary Fund, 1989), pp. 33-59.
8. Ali, " The Indians of Fiji ", op. cit., p. 1956. MISCELLANÉES 65
sugarfields to start small stores and tradeshops. In population, they command high status and income
contemporary Fiji, most small and intermediate- twenty to fifty times over their proportional share.
size commercial operations are in Indian hands. Today, most nongovernment European workers are
Soon the government bureaucracy was challenged, employed in high executive positions in foreign
and Europeans who held highly skilled jobs were multinational corporations. Big business remains in
localized. In the professions, the Indians' incursions the hands of European-owned companies 13.
into traditional European areas also became The remaining population categories are the significant9. At all levels, the Indians posed an Chinese, mixed races, and other Pacific Islanders. economic threat to the two other major groups of The Chinese are mainly small businessmen and
Fiji. skilled workers. They, like the various mixed races Many Indians and Fijians have moved to urban of light pigmentation, enjoy a middle-class socio- areas such as Suva and Lautoka. As in the rural economic well-being and are among the most where Indians and Fijians live apart (Fijians urbanized of Fiji's population. The other Pacific live in small, concentrated, nucleated villages, Islanders are mainly the Rotumans who belong to whereas Indian family units are dispersed on
the adjacent island, Rotuma, which is part of Fiji's sprawling leased land), in the towns such as Suva
territory, and to Solomon Islanders and other similar ethnic residential self-selectivity occurs,
nearby island groups which were originally recruithereby making city wards predominantly Fijian or
ted to serve on European plantations. These Pacific Indian 10. Cultural features also separate the two
major communities. While English is the cross- Islanders identify politically with indigenous Fijian
interests. communal language, Indians speak Hindustani
among themselves and Fijians their indigenous lan
guage. The radio stations carry separate programs
I. — Inequality and Representation under in Hindustani and Fijian and, until recently, the
educational institutions were segregated. Finally, Colonial Administration.
most voluntary social and economic organizations
such as sports clubs and trade unions are predo At the outset of British colonial rule in 1874, no
minantly uni-ethnic. Intermarriage between Fijians concession was made for direct popular participa
and Indians is practically non-existent. tion in collective decision-making. When an el
Europeans, although numerically insignificant, ement of popular representation was first introduced
have dominated the direction of the colony. First, in Fiji in 1904, it followed communalist lines. The
the traders and planters stamped a capitalist colony at that time contained 2,440 Europeans,
economy onto Fiji. Second, missionaries converted 92,000 native Fijians, and 22,790 Indians. An elec
the Fijians to Christianity. Finally, the Europeans, tive principle was partly utilized to recruit members who at first served as instigators of Fijian inter to the first colonial council, but this was extended tribal conflict, won political domination of Fijian only to Europeans. In this practice inhered the society through the Deed of Cession in 1874 n. The principle of " communal representation " under
political imprint was a form of government which which the franchise was extended disproportat independence in 1970 was a variant of the ionately to certain distinctive groups en bloc based Westminster parliamentary model. The overall on ideas of superiority and inferiority. Hence, the social impact has been the de facto establishment of
colonial council of 1904 contained a total of English ways as the measure of excellence. The
16 Europeans and 2 native Fijians. Of the 16 Eurolingua franca is English. A strong racial dimension
peans, 6 were elected from among the European has been added to the emerging class system. A
settler community while the 10 others were nomicolour-class continuum was ingrained in the
nated from among the British colonial administratconsciousness of practically all citizens, so that
ors 14. In effect, at the very founding of a system things white were deemed superior to things black.
Mixed-race and light-skinned persons, for example, of popular representation, grave inequalities were
who stand in an intermediate position in the practised. The two native Fijians represented
colour-class continuum tend to hold middle-level 92,000 Fijians ; the six elected Europeans represen
skilled occupations and to enjoy middle-class ted about 2,000 European settlers ; and the
lifestyles. Privileges and rewards are skewed in 22,000 Indians were without representation. The
favour of those who are English or who have different ethnic communities were not encouraged
acquired English cultural traits. Consequently, to mingle or mix so that the idea of forging a
Europeans are overrepresented as managers, consensus of popular opinion was effectively di
supervisors, professionals, and skilled workers scouraged. One scholar depicted this policy of socio-
generally n. Constituting less than 1 % of the cultural apartheid as follows :
9. Census Report, p. 1966.
10. A. C. Walsh, " Fiji's Changing Population : Implications for Race Relations ", Unispac, 8:1 (1970), pp. 1-2.
11. See R. A. Derrick, The Fiji Islands (Suva : Government Printery, 1966).
12. Census Report, p. 1966.
13. For an exposition of Australian control of big Fiji business, see Amelia Rokotunivuna et al., Fiji : A Developing
Australian Colony (Melbourne : International Development Action, 1974).
14. Ahmed Ali, Plantation to Politics : Studies on Fiji Indians (Suva : Fiji Times, 1980), pp. 130-166. 66 SOCIÉTÉ DES OCÉANISTES
For its part, the government pursued no policy to common roll. The Indian members resigned their
achieve integration or even bring the races into a close seats. When again in 1933 a new council was
relationship. In the compartmentalised world of colo composed under the old communal formula, Indian nialism, social intercourse between ethnic groups was di members again demanded common roll and again scouraged. The separate institutions for governing Fijians resigned from the Council. Over the following ensured divergent paths... 15. years, common roll " in the minds of European and
Fijians members [had] become synonymous with an The exclusion of the Indian sector, however, was
attempt at political domination by Indians, and only temporary. By 1916 when a new council was
each proposal had been voted down " 19. introduced, Indians were allocated one nominated
No significant alteration in the mode of reprerepresentative after agitating for the franchise. The
sentation was made until 1966. Prior to this date in impetus for Indian representation came from
1963, universal adult suffrage was introduced. It recently-arrived Indian immigrants, mainly
was in 1963 also that Fijians were first allowed to Gujaratis, who emulated the nationalist struggle of
elect directly their representatives from among the the Indian Congress in India for equal rights. As
Fijian people. Previously, Fijians were nominated British subjects, they demanded representa
to the council. In 1966, a new legislative council in tion with the European sector of the population.
which elected representatives constituted a majority The European settlers reacted defensively to these
demands arguing that their superior representation was inaugurated and a ministerial-member system
was justified on the basis of " their large stake in... under which elected members were given Cabinet
developing the economy of the islands " 16. Clearly, supervisory responsibilities came into effect. A ful
lblown party system came into existence by 1966 this position was based on a system of represen
tation anchored on claims to superior productive consisting of two major parties, the National
contribution to the national economy. It was essent Federation Party (NFP), supported predominantly
by Indians and the Alliance Party supported mainly ially not different from imposing property r
equirements to obtain the franchise. It rejects a by Fijians, Europeans, Chinese and others. What
did not change under the new political order of claim to representation based on the equal value of
the human person regardless of economic 1966 was the communal system of representation as
the following table shows. endowment.
Indian demand for electoral equality was
couched in terms of " common " roll (one man, one Table I. — Communal System of Representation. vote) as distinct from the " communal " roll (sec
tional representation). Because the Fijians were Communal Group Population Seats
governed under a separate native administration,
Fiji-Indians 272,040 (50.8 %) 12 (33.4 %) the Indian demands for a common roll challenged
European control of the colonial council and was Fijian and Pacific 244,364 (45.7 %) 12 (38.9 %)
Islanders interpreted as an attempt to introduce Indian poli
tical domination of Fiji. The equation of the Europeans, Chinese 18,822 ( 3.5 %) 10 (27.8 %)
demand for a common role with the alleged desire and Mixed Races
of Indians to politically dominate the entire society
has since become a pervasive theme in the commun The table depicts the inequities of the communal
al politics of Fiji. When the Indian population system. The Europeans, Chinese and Mixed Races,
surpassed that of the Fijian in 1946 and became a for example, had only 3.5 % of the total population
clear majority in the entire population by 1966, the in 1966, but had been allocated 27.8 % of all elec
fear of Indian hegemony became ominous. ted seats. For the first time, however, the European
section obtained fewer seats than were assigned to Indians viewed the alternative to "common
roll " as the continuation of communal represen Fijians or Indians. Nevertheless, Fijians and
tation and the institutionalization of inequality. In Indians remained underrepresented. The struggle to
1929, when the enlarged third colonial council was correct these inequities and the debate over the
established, Indians were given three seats, but relative merits of the common versus the communal
" almost immediately after taking their they system of representation was, after 1966, carried on
demanded the introduction of a common roll " 17. mainly by the two political parties representing
The upshot was that the " European members communal interests.
strongly attacked the Indian demands for a
common roll on the grounds that it would contri II. — Inequality in the Independence Consti
bute to a 'definite and absolute breach of faith and tution.
honor to the colored race [the Fijians] which the
British government was supposed to protect and Although the Fijians initially resisted indepen
care for' " 18. The voting was 33 to 3 against the dence, fearing Indian designs to dominate Fiji, they
15. Ibid., p. 178.
16. Norman Meller and J. Anthony, Fiji Goes to the Polls (Honolulu : East-West Centre Press, 1967), pp. 11-12.
17. Ibid., p. 14.
18. Ibid., p. 28.
19.p. 15. MISCELLANÉES 67
gradually came to accept it as inevitable. The Table III
results of the 1966 elections in particular heartened
the Fijians since they gave the Fijian-dominated Fijian Great Council of Chiefs nominees 8
Alliance Party an overwhelming victory against the Prime Minister's nominees 7
predominantly Indian National Federation Party. Opposition Leader's 6
" The emergence thus of the Alliance as the most Council of Rotuma's nominees _1
important political force in the country lessened the 22
Fijian fear for further constitutional advance. Their
constitutional supremacy having been established
not only through the 1965 constitutional arrange The power of the Senate resided not only in the
ment but now through the general elections of representation of superior numbers of Fijians, but
1966, reduced their resistance to rapid advance to in the amending procedure which entrenched Fijian
independence " 20. Independence meant that the interests by requiring consent of the Fijian Great
Council of Chiefs on matters related to land country required a new constitution, and in turn, this
implied that the outstanding issues which separated and custom. This it did by requiring a two-thirds
majority in each chamber for altering the constiFijians and Indians had to be reconciled. Between
tution. Here, it must be noted that the Fijian Great August 1969 and March 1970, the representatives of
Council of Chiefs had 8 out of 22 seats, that is, the NFP and Alliance met to work out a constitutio
more than a third of the seats and thus capable of nal solution for Fiji. The negotiations focused on the
blocking any constitutional change without their issues of representation, citizenship, and land.
consent. On the issue of citizenship, the Indian On the system of representation, the Alliance negotiators successfully won acceptance of full accepted the common roll as a long term objective Indian citizenship. It was agreed that all citizens be and acceded to the NFP demands that (1) a Royal called Fijians. To underscore that this citizenship Commission be established sometime between the implied equality and freedom from discrimination, first and second elections after independence to a Bill of Rights was agreed upon to prohibit dire-examine the entire issue of common versus scrimination on " grounds of race, place of origin,
communal roll, and (2) common roll elections be political opinions, color or creed ".
held for the municipalities of Suva and Lautoka. In The 1970 constitution represented a settlement or
the meantime, a system of communal and cross- compromise of claims and counterclaims by the
communal voting would continue. The lower main communal interests in Fiji's society. Fol
House in the proposed bicameral Parliament was to lowing the compromises, there was a remarkable
be composed thus21. period of amicable relations between the Fijian and
Indian party leadership. This would not last
however. Table II. — House of Representatives
The undermining of the consensus built in the
constitution came from both Indian and Fijian disGroup as % National lotal sidents. The signing of the 1970 constitution only of Population nal Role Role offered a temporary buffer against the immediate
Fiji-Indians (50.8 %) 12 10 22 (42.3 dismantling of the compromises in the constitution.
But from 1975 onwards, all fundamental constituFijians and Pacific
tional ideas from Fijian political paramountcy Islanders (45.7 %) 12 10 22 (42.3
(seemingly guaranteed by expected Alliance victoEuropeans, ries in all foreseeable elections) to Indian citizenChinese, Mixed " outbidders " ship were challenged by 3 5 8 (15.4 coming Races ( 3.5 %)
from outside the leadership of the two major part27 25 52
Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, the Parity of representation was accorded the Fijian
communal divisions were inflamed by Indian-Fijian and Indian communities, while the European, part-
rivalry. At one point in the March- April 1977 elecEuropean and Chinese sectors referred to as
tions, the Federation Party almost wrested power " General Electors ", although constituting only
away from the Alliance. Significantly, a new Fijian- 3.5 % of the population, continued to be over-
based party had also emerged and demanded that represented with 15.4% of the seats. On the 1970 constitution be set aside and that Indians paramount rights for Fijians, the NFP conceded be sent back to India. By this time, Fijians had that additional " weightage " should be allocated to
come to see their political hold on the government Fijians interests. The device through which this was as tenuous. to be implemented was a second chamber, a Senate, In the 1982 elections, a bitter campaign was in the National Parliament. It was agreed that the waged by both sides and until the last week prior
Senate should be composed as follows : to the elections, it appeared that the Alliance was
20. Ibid.
21. Report of the Fiji Constitutional Conference 1970. Council Paper Number 5 (Suva : Government Printery, 1970),
likely to lose to the Federation Party acting in loose tion 25. An indigenous Fijian movement called the
" Taukei Movement " with " taukei " concert with a Fijian splinter party, the Western meaning
"our land" orchestrated demonstrations througUnited Front. When this failed, in the next round
of elections scheduled for 1987, the Federation hout April and May 1987. Despite public pleas
would join with the newly formed Labour Party to from Bavadra, Mara and the Governor General, a
oust the ruling Alliance party from power. A new respected Fijian high chief, Ratu Penaia Ganilau,
form of struggle marked by a zero-sum contest for traditional Fijian chiefs mobilized commoner
power was inaugurated. In the next section we look Fijians to perceive the Bavadra electoral victory as
briefly at these elections in 1987 which led up to the a defeat for the Fijian people. The Fiji Visitor's
Bureau promotional slogan, " Fiji — the way the first coup and the new constitution of inequal
ity. world should be ", suddenly rang hollow. Hooded
soldiers with menacing weapons walked the streets
of Suva. Indo-Fijian shopkeepers closed and
III. — The 1987 Coup and the New Consti boarded their shops and remained cloistered at
tution of Inequality. home fearful of a violent Fijian outburst. After the
coup, to restore Fijian political paramountcy,
On May 14th, 1987, in a deceptively simple, yet Rabuka, addressing a crowd of Fijians from a bal
politically provocative act, Lt. Colonel Sitiveni cony overlooking Victoria Parade, proclaimed
proudly, " Fijians — you have won ! " 26 Rabuka, the third in command of the Royal Fiji
Military Force (RFMF), walked into the House of Despite concerted attempts between May 14th,
Representatives, accompanied by a handful of 1987 and September 25th, 1987 to resolve the poli
balaclava hooded soldiers, to depose the elected tical crisis occasioned by the first coup, Sitiveni
government. Fiji had joined the ranks of Third Rabuka felt impelled to stage a second coup on the
World countries falling to a coup d'état. Dr Timoci 25th of September to preserve the original goals of
Bavadra, a Fijian from Veisesi village in western the first coup. From September 25th on, Fiji was
Viti Levu, had been elected at the head of a Fiji to be ruled by a military administration. Rabuka
Labour Party/National Federation Party coalition declared Fiji to be a republic effectively severing its
only shortly before in April 1987 in a startling elec ties with the Commonwealth. In October 1987, a
toral triumph. Bavadra had orchestrated a stunning series of military decrees cemented the control of
defeat of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's Alliance Party the military over Fiji. In November 1987, the
government which had ruled Fiji since indepen Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji forecast a
dence in 1970. Bavadra's triumph combined Fijian continuing severe and irreparable decline for Fiji's
support along with overwhelming strength from the economy. The country was hemorrhaging profus
Indo-Fijian community. Of the 28 elected M.P.s, ely. In part, given the negative forecast by the
19 were Indo-Fijian, 7 Fijian and 2 were from the Governor of the Reserve Bank and, in part, given
Other Races category22 which makes up the the difficulties of holding together the new gover
ethnically-bipolar character of Fiji. According to ning group, Rabuka decided to end military rule on
the August 1986 census figures, 48 % of the total December 5th, 1987 passing power over to the
population of Fiji was Indo-Fijian with slightly President, Ratu Ganilau, and vesting power in him
over 46 % of the population being indigenous to appoint a new Prime Minister.
Fijians 23. Ganilau appointed Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to
Although Bavadra held the crucial post of Prime be Prime Minister and called upon him to form a
new interim government, " to administer the affairs Minister and although he carefully selected Fijian
M.P.s for cabinet portfolios of critical concern to of the country until general elections were held 27. "
the Fijian community, the new government had Mara saw two major challenges facing the interim
been represented as being dominated by Indo- administration — to restore confidence in the
Fijians. The fragile " racial balance " M which had economy of Fiji and to design a new constitution
ruled Fiji politically since 1970 under which Fijians for Fiji which would be "... an amicable consti
tution acceptable to majority of the people " 28. A controlled the government had been unceremon
iously toppled. The perception of Indo-Fijian poli draft constitution was prepared by September 1988
tical pre-eminence served as the basis of an active and approved by the Cabinet Committee on the
campaign of " destabilization " against the Bavadra Constitution29. On October 5th, 1988, the
government from virtually the moment of its President appointed the Fiji Constitution and
22. Robert T. Robertson and Akosita Tamanisau, Fiji : Shattered Coups (Leichhardt : Pluto Press, 1988), pp. 43-63.
23. " Final Census figure is put at 715,375 ", The Fiji Times, August 6, 1987, p. 10.
24. Ralph Premdas, " Fiji ", in The International Handbook on Race Relations edited by J. Sigler (New York :
Greenwood Press, 1987), pp. 67-99.
25. Robertson, op. cit., pp. 64-68.
26. Robert Keith-Reid, " Pacific loses its jewel ", Islands Business, 13:6 (June 1987), p. 14.
" Back 27.From the Brink ", Pacific "Intriguing Islands questions Monthly on (January the Fiji 1988), see-saw", pp. 10-12. Islands Business, 14:1 (January 1988), p. 11 ;
28. Ratu Mara, " Our Great Challenge ", Pacific Islands Monthly (May 1988), pp. 35-37.
29. Draft Constitution for the Republic of Fiji (Suva : Government Printery, 1988). MISCELLANÉES 69
Inquiry Committee under the chairmanship of Table IV
Colonel Paul Manueli.
The Committee, because of a number of factors, Seats % Population %
was not able to complete its work and prepare its (1986)
report until the 30th of August, 1989. From that Fijians 37 53.00 329,305 46.03 point forward, the Manueli Report had to be consi Indians 27 38.57 348,704 48.74 dered by Cabinet and the Great Council of Chiefs.
General Electors 5 7.01 37,366 5.22 The latter took place at a three-day meeting of the
Rotumans 1 1.43 Great Council of Chiefs held at the Fiji Military
Headquarters in Suva from March 14th through
March 16th, 1990. The constitution was approved
Essentially, in the most significant law-making in principle save for the need for talks at the pro body in the land, the House of Representatives, vincial level concerning the provision of seven Indians who form almost 49 % of the total populurban Fijian seats. The Draft Constitution was sent ation were assigned 39 % of the seats. To the to the Attorney General's office for legal drafting CIAC, this disparity in proportional representation before its release publicly. Finally on July 25th, the was consistent with similar disparities the Indian new Constitution was proclaimed. sector suffered in the 1970 constitution when they Substantively, the provisions of the new Fiji
received only 22 seats or 42.5 % of the 52 seats in constitution will be examined and evaluated in rela the House of Representatives30. Fijian political tion to the political problems which were besetting
pre-eminence was expressed in their being assigned the Fijian people at the time of the first military 53.00 % of the seats in a population share of 46 %. interventions in 1987. It was their representatives In terms of changes from the 1970 constitution, and advisers who sought to construct a constitution Indian representation fell from 42.5 % to 38.57 %, to resolve these issues. We shall also refer to Fiji's while Fijian rose from 42.5 % to social and political environment as they relate to 53.00%. Most of the losses from 1970 were the constitutional solutions proffered in Fiji's new suffered by the General Electors who fell from basic law. Before we proceed with this section, it
about 15 % to 7 %. The CIAC felt that with the must be noted that the new constitution derived rapid depletion of the Indian population through mainly from the work of the CIAC which, in turn,
migration, Fijian numbers would eventually was endorsed by the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (the become the majority justifying their alloction of Fijian Council of Chiefs). over 50 % of the seats. The CIAC recommended
that from the House of Representatives, the Prime
Minister would be elected by a majority and he/she 1. — Fear of Indian Domination.
could be a Fijian or from any other ethnic
group. The most critical issue facing the Fijian commun
Clearly then an Indian could have become Prime ity was fear of Indian domination, a charge which
Minister by combining their numbers with a small the Indian community had steadfastly denied. The
task of the constitutional drafters was not only to Fijian contingent such as 27 Indians plus 8 Fijians.
Numerous similar combinations could be conceived prevent an Indian government, or a preponderantly
yielding an Indian Prime Minister or a Fijian Indian-backed from forming but, at
Prime Minister with a preponderantly Indian the same time, to assure Fijian political para-
mountcy. It was mainly through the institution of parliamentary support base. In effect, if political
paramountcy in part meant the appointment of popular representation, namely the legislature,
an indigenous Fijian Prime Minister, the new that these ends were to be achieved. Specifically,
ethnic composition of the House of Representatives the new constitution prescribed a bicameral legis
in the context of an open multi-party system, lature with an Upper House called " The Senate of
Chiefs" and a House of Representatives. In a could result in an Indian being appointed instead
to that post. This was averted at the last minute House of Representatives of 70 members who
when the CIAC recommendation was changed so would be popularly elected, only from communal
that the President under the new constitution is constituencies, 37 were allocated to Fijians, 27 to
required to choose a Fijian to serve as Prime MinistIndians, 5 to General Electors, and 1 for the Rotu-
er31. mans. The table below describes more fully the
In the new bicameral parliament, the Senate of meaning of these figures relative to population
Chiefs was to be composed as follows : size :
30. Constitution Inquiry and Advisory Committee Report (Suva : Government Printery, 1989), pp. 9-10.
31. According to Section 83(2) of the new constitution. " The President, acting in his own deliberate judgment, shall
appoint as Prime Minister the Fijian member of the House of Representatives who appears to him best able to command
the support of the majority of the members of that House... " Constitution of the Sovereign Democratic Republic of Fiji
(Suva : Government Printery, 1990). 70 SOCIÉTÉ DES OCÉANISTES
2. Preferential Treatment of Fijians — "Affirmative 1. Chiefs appointed by the Bose Levu Vakatu- 24
raga (BLV) — Action ".
2. Chiefs appointed by the Rotuman Island 1 The issue of preferential allocation of jobs, proj
Council — ects, scholarships, etc. in favour of Fijians is mired
in intense controversy. Fundamentally, the Fijian 3. Prominent citizens — 9
communal social structure which gives priority to Total — 34 collective endeavors and sharing is inconsistent
with the individualistic and more materially-
oriented social structure of Europeans, Indians and The powers of the Senate are limited to vetoing
Chinese. Apart from this factor, Fijian children unacceptable bills originating in the House of
have lived in environments which were sparse in Representatives dealing with matters of Fijian and
educational supports so that they tended to under- Rotuman land and customs. In effect, practically all perform relative to other ethnic groups. From these legislative powers reside in the House of Repres
causes has emerged the condition of relative deprientatives. However, in the Senate, Fijians number vation among Fijians in the modern sector. Hence, ed at least 24 out of 34 or 70.58 %. Theoretically, the Fijian community displays less conspicuous if no Indian prominent citizen is nominated, no signs of prosperity than the Indian, European and Indian could be in the Senate. If the President of Chinese communities. In turn, this has thrown up Fiji appointed nine Fijians to fill the category of comparisons reflecting badly on the social status of " prominent citizens ", Fijian representation could Fijians relative to other groups in Fiji. But more
be 34 out of 34 seats. The major significance of this importantly, over the years, the relative wealth of
in relation to representation is that Indians will Indians, Europeans, and Chinese has outstripped
only be marginally present in the Senate. Symboli that of the Fijian community. To Fijians, the latter
cally, this further institutionalizes Indian political factor may have significance in the political
inferiority while it promotes Fijian symbolic pre arena where the immigrant groups will eventually
eminence in a significant way. yield de facto greater influence on government
The President of Fiji is appointed by the BLV. decision making. In effect, the greater economic
wealth of non-Fijians will undermine and make a This practically guarantees that the President will
travesty of the substance of Fijian political parabe a Fijian. The Head of State of Fiji is likely
mountcy. always to be an indigenous Fijian. The President
Under the term "affirmative action", the new does have definite symbolic powers similar to those
constitution has offered a wide assortment of proof the Governor General as in the 1970 constitu
visions to ensure Fijian numerical preponderance in tion. Fijians can be mobilized decisively to occupy
the civil service. Constitutionally, a minimum of all senior posts. Along with his presidential council,
50 % of all civil service jobs are reserved for he/she could influence public opinion and, in par
Fijians. Where qualified Fijians cannot be found, ticular, Fijian public opinion. Given that a good other ethnic groups or foreigners may temporarily part of the paramountcy idea is symbolically di occupy the vacancies. In order to prevent the splayed in the majestic residence of the President, in outright excessive staffing of the public bureaucracy meetings with foreign dignitaries, and in initiating by Fijians, the constitution stipulates that 40 % of ceremonial public events, the Fijian chiefly presence civil service jobs will be reserved to Indians. The
in this institution should fulfill the psychological question of ethnicity and senior positions has been
need of Fijians for public acknowledgment of their left for the Public Service Commission and Police
pre-eminence. Service Commission to decide. However, since the
Overall, in the Parliament and in the offices of heads of these commissions as well as their
Prime Minister and President, Fijian dominance is membership will be decided by the President acting
guaranteed. Instability is guaranteed by the inferior on the advice of the Prime Minister, they are likely
citizenship offered Fiji Indians whose numerous to be Fijians. This arrangement is supposed to
brethren overseas in Canada, New Zealand and ensure that Fijians will have enough influence and
Australia, along with human rights activists will power in decision making in the public service.
continue to bring international pressure on Fiji to With regard to the Judiciary, the Chief Justice
drop its constitution which creates inequality. would be appointed by the President independent
of the advice of the Prime Minister. Finally, a potentially very destabilizing source of
instability can come from the disproportionately For indigenous Fijians, their numerical over-
few (5) seats which were assigned urban Fijians representation and occupation of most senior
(who constitute about 40 % of the Fijian populat positions in the public bureaucraty formally
ion) in the House of Representatives. It was, in acknowledges what had already become the pract
part, the split in the ranks of the Fijian population ice under the Alliance governments in the 1980s.
in 1987 that led the Labour-Federation Coalition to The National Federation Party leader had bitterly
win power. The rural bias in representation against complained about this to Prime Minister Ratu
the urban Fijian can be the very stuff that will Mara when the two sectional leaders were discus
provoke some Fijians to withdraw their support sing a government of national unity in 1980. Said
from a Fijian-backed Party. Reddy : MISCELLANÉES 71
While multi-racialism is still espoused, it is now very much tics, bountiful results. Nevertheless, the memory
a matter of slogans. It seems to me that Fiji is imple remains that in the past, government subsidies and
menting a policy designed to ensure that all strategic levels loans to would-be Fijian entrepreneurs have come
of government are staffed by loyal [Fijian] personnel... 32 to naught33.
Taken together then, the " affirmative action " For Fijians, it was more than reasonable that
program institutionalizes the practice of ethnic dis50 % or more of civil service positions have been crimination. It both confirms Fijian economic infeassigned to them since Indians find employment
riority and frustrates Indian economic efforts. Statmuch more easily than Fijians in the private sector.
istically, the concessions made to Fijians in these Hence, Fijian over-representation in the public sec
areas were not very large. The larger problem that tor was offset by Indian over-representation in the
it created consisted in the dual economic citizenship private sector. For Indians, this constituted a spu
that has been created so that the effort and industry rious argument that would likely discourage Fijians
of one section is made to pay for the under- from improving their qualifications and competing
achievement of another group. The prospect of on merit with non-Fijians for jobs. Indians cham
peremanent discrimination confers an aura of pion the case for appointment on the basis of merit.
depressed behaviour that could affect the well-being They favour the market as the determinant of the
of all. allocation of employment positions. They feel that
their investment in educating their children was
frustrated by the limitation on the number of jobs 3. Land.
assigned to them in the public service. If Indians
with the same or better qualifications than Fijian Land featured as the triggering point among the
civil servants were turned down for public jobs, grievances and demands the Taukei movement
then they felt that new lands ought to be made advanced for the massive demonstrations that were
available to them to enter agriculture. However, the mounted against the Federation-Labour govern
land policy of the NLTB under the Fijian-run ment. In reality, the new government had done
government had led to less rather than more land absolutely nothing to threaten any aspect of Fijian
being made available to Indians every year. As a land which, in any case, was constitutionally saf
result of all of this, many had to migrate eguarded and entrenched in the Senate. Under the
1970 constitution, it would have taken the active seeking job opportunities overseas. However, many
consent of the Great Council Chiefs to alter Fijian remain in Fiji qualified but unemployed or under
employed. land tenure. Despite this, fear of the loss of land
The allocation of most senior positions in the and its transfer to Indians served as an emotive
public service also has negative effects on the wel bond that mobilized Fijians against the Bavadra
fare of Indians. Many Indian businessman have government. In a sense, the land was an " antic
reported privately that their " paper work " gets ipatory issue " meaning that Fijians expected that
sooner or later the new government would begin to held up deliberately by senior Fijian public servants
who delight in either frustrating them or waiting tamper with Fijian land tenure and the operations
for a bribe. Since senior public servants, in fact, of the NLTB. This was a reasonable expectation in
make policy as well as implement it in relation to the light of the fact that Indians constituted the
licenses, taxes, and concessions, this fact has popular backbone of the Federation-Labour
terrified many Indian businessmen. This has added government and one of the chief grievances of
to Indian disenchantment and has created an ali Indians concerned not only the type of leasing
enated section which because of its virtual monopoly arrangements they had under the ALTA land act
position in the sugar industry and business can in but also the limited supply of land that was put at
their disposal. subtle retaliation inflict great harm on the Fiji
economy. In the new constitution, land was not in any
To counter Indian predominance in small and meaningful way being given greater security than in
intermediate size businesses, the Fijian-dominated the 1970 constitution. Under section 78, Fijian land
government has embarked on two major policies. tenure cannot be altered without the consent of the
First, to offset the flight of Indian capital from Fiji, BLV. This is similar to the role of the Great Fijian
a vigorous program was launched to attract Council of Chiefs under the 1970 constitution. In
Japanese and Chinese businesses from South-East both cases, Fijian land rights are entrenched in the
Asia. Already, the Japanese have stepped up their constitution requiring almost impossible circum
capital influx into Fiji dramatically. Second, the stances for their alteration.
Fijian government has preferentially made available Another land grievance of Fijians pertained to
large sums of loans and grants to induct Fijians the ALTA legislation. wanted it abo
into the business sector. This latter policy has so far lished so as to make their land leased to Indians
available for their own use. The CIAC constitution yielded, according to government-supplied
32. Jai Ram Reddy, " Address to the 16th Annual Convention of the National Federation Party ", (mimeo, 1980),
p. 20.
33. See John M. Hailey, Indigenous Business in Fiji (Pacific Islands Program, East-West Centre, Hawaii, 1985) ; see
also C. S. Belshaw, Society and Economic Growth in Rural Fiji (London : Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964) ; and
R. F. Watters, Koro : Economic Development and Social Change in Fiji (Melbourne : Oxford University Press, 1969).