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Fiji’s Democratic Crisis


After the recent general election on December 14 three political parties joined to form a new government in Fiji. 

The election results showed Bainimarama’s FijiFirst party winning 42.5 percent of the vote, Rabuka’s People’s Alliance Party with 36 percent, the National Federation Party with 9 percent, and the Social Liberal Democratic Party (SODELPA) with more than 5 percent.

The Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), a power-broker holding three seats in the hung parliament, announced it had decided to form a coalition with Sitiveni Rabuka’s People’s Alliance and the National Federation Party.

At a livestreamed news conference, Rabuka thanked the people of Fiji.

“They have voted for change and we have given them that,” he said.

National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad told reporters: “Today the leaders of the People’s Alliance party, the National Federation Party and the Social Democratic Liberal Party agreed to form a new government.”

FijiFirst leader and former prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama was elected as the Leader of Opposition after leading the country for the last 16 years, coming to power in a coup in 2006, and subsequently winning democratic elections in 2014 and 2018. 

Despite Fiji’s democratic elections under Bainimarama in 2014 and 2018, Freedom House classified the country in 2022 as “partly free,” noting that  while freedoms have improved since 2014, Bainimarama’s government “frequently interferes with opposition activities, the judiciary is subject to political influence, and military and police brutality is a significant problem.” A 2021 U.S. government report on human rights in Fiji also cites restrictions on freedom of expression, the press and the right of peaceful assembly. In 2021, nine opposition figures, including Rabuka, were arrested for criticizing government legislation.

Fijian political past has some very dark moments of non-peaceful transfer of power. Since 1970 Fiji has experienced fours military coups. Two of them were staged by the current Newly elected Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka in April and September of 1987. December 2006 coup was led by Frank Bainimarama the outgoing Prime Minister. The fourth coup was in May 2000 which was a hybrid civilian–military coup led initially by George Speight. 

Fijian democracy for decades has been somewhat in an electoral crisis. The current election has some elements from the 1977 elections which resulted in a hung parliament. National Federation Party (NFP) won 26 of the 52 seats in the 1977 general election with a chance to lead Fiji as the new Government under Sidiq Koya with the support of an independent member of parliament. Koya’s hopes to become Prime Minister quickly eroded as his main rival within his own party Jai Ram Reddy broke away dividing the party. The then governor-general, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, claimed to be unpersuaded that NFP leader Siddiq Koya could form a stable majority. He reappointed the defeated Alliance Party leader, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, as prime minister.

The Alliance Party moved a motion of confidence in Mara when parliament met to test his support. The motion was defeated and Cakobau dissolved the parliament and issued writs for new elections in September. The Alliance Party won handily after the NPF leadership broke into two factions—the flower and dove—that opposed each other in the election.

The Current elections also has the same element of the 1977 playbook with the Sodelpa forming the coalition Government but yet divided within itself. Only this time it is the iTaukei (Indigenous Fijians) who are divided unlike the Indo-Fijian who were divided in 1977 after the elections. 

The upcoming days will test the democratic and ethnic crisis that have plagued the Island nation since 1977. Following the current elections Bainimarama cited ethnic tensions and violence as a justification to call on the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to assist the police with maintaining security and stability. 

Although ethnic tensions between the Indo-Fijian minority and indigenous iTaukei have eased in recent years. Rabuka in the past led coups in the name of returning the country to iTaukei, whereas Bainimarama led his coup in 2006 in the name of a multiracial Fiji, and, ironically, good governance.

The biggest winner in all this crisis could be Rabuka. If he can continue his term as a Prime Minister without returning the country back to the iTaukei and serving as the Prime Minister of a Multiracial Fiji. 

In His address to the nation on Christmas season he said, “For me, as your new Prime Minister, Christ’s teachings provide the way to co-existence and unity in a country of many communities and beliefs. We are enjoined to be good neighbours; to help the poor and needy and to do the best we can for Fiji with the talents God has given us. Let us be kind and accepting of those with different religious beliefs. Let us live as good neighbours and acknowledge we are duty bound to forgive our enemies and those who hurt us. May God bless our homeland, now and forever.”