2000/8 25 May 2000
Fiji: some background information On Friday 19th May 2000, George Speight took control of the Fijian Parliamentary complex and took hostage the Prime Minister, members of Cabinet, and other members of the Fijian Parliament. This publication is to provide members with some background information on Fiji.
A brief history
Following the 1987 coup, the Fijian constitution was changed to increase indigenous Fijian representation in Parliament. The constitution was further amended in 1997 after international pressure and a review commission led by Sir Paul Reeves. While the 1997 constitution has many improvements, critics have noted that it is not fully democratic. An estimated 809,000 people live in the Fiji Islands. From 1946 to the late-1980s, Indians were more numerous than Fijians. Currently, just over 50 percent of the population are indigenous Fijians and 44 percent are Indians. The Fijian economy is weak and fragile, with a dependency on tourism, and exports of garments and sugar. During 1999 New Zealand exported $225 million worth of goods to Fiji and imported $66 million worth of goods from Fiji. 5.7% of all people departing New Zealand on overseas visits have Fiji as their destination. The number of permanent arrivals to New Zealand from Fiji peaked after the 1987 coup at 2,409; 1,489 arrived in the year to April 2000 . Reasons behind the coups include Fijian fear of dispossession under an Indian government, concern among traditional rural-based Fijian chiefs about loss of control to urban Fijians and non-Fijians, and conflict between workers (both Fijian and Indian) and the upper class.
Fiji was proclaimed a British possession in 1874, and Indian labourers were imported to work on the sugar plantations over the period 1876 to 1916. By 1946, the Indian population had exceeded the indigenous Fijian population, a situation which did not reverse until after the 1987 coup. Fiji received its first constitution from the British Government in 1966. This introduced racially based Fijian and Indian electoral rolls for the Legislative Council. In 1970 the Legislative Council became the House of Representatives and Fiji, led by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara of the Alliance Party (a multiracial, but primarily indigenous Fijian party) obtained independence within the Commonwealth. The 1970 constitution ensured an equal balance in the
House between representatives of the Fijian and Indian electoral rolls, but also allowed for a significant contribution from the general electoral roll (Appendix A). Elections in 1977 and 1982 featured increasing support for parties representing the Indian constituency, and in 1985 the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) and Dr. Timoci Bavadra formed the Fiji Labour Party which, in coalition with the National Federation Party took over government from the Alliance Party after the 1987 election. The next month the 1987 coup took place, returning power to parties espousing the rights of indigenous Fijians (hereinafter called Fijians), and constitutional reform was undertaken to entrench their political power. By 1990 there was a new constitution which guaranteed a majority of Fijian representatives in both the elected House of Representatives and the appointed Senate, and a Fijian Prime Minister. Fiji lost its membership in the Commonwealth after the coup, and was advised it could not be readmitted until it changed the 1990 Constitution. In 1994 a Constitution Review Commission was established, chaired by Sir Paul Reeves, which reported its recommendations to the Fijian House of Representatives in September 1996. A new constitution was passed by the Fijian Parliament in 1997, took effect in 1998, and the 1999 election was the first held under its new provisions. Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth in October 1997, and India lifted its trade embargo on Fiji (instituted after the 1987 coup) in March 1998.
The current constitution gives effect to some but not all of the Reeves Commission recommendations. It provides for the new concept of open (rather than ethnic) seats, but provides for 25 rather than the 45 recommended, out of a total of 71 seats. The guaranteed Fijian seats were reduced from 37 to 23, and the requirement for a Fijian Prime Minister was removed. It does not provide for the Senate to be elected, but does contain a Bill of Rights, and provisions for an Ombudsman for human rights issues. The role of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) as the traditional structure of authority within the indigenous Fijian community is confirmed, as are its powers to appoint the President, nominate Senate members, and hold veto power over changes to ethnic representation provisions. Preferential voting replaces ‘first past the post’, and voting is made compulsory (the voter turnout was 89% in 1999). Major-General Rabuka has praised the new constitution on the grounds that it requires the Prime Minister to invite any party with 10% or more of the seats in the House to join the Cabinet, encouraging co-operation. However the Prime Minister Mr Chaudhry has described the current constitution as a rejection of important principles expressed by the Constitutional Review Commission and essentially still the 1990 constitution, with an entrenched bias in favour of indigenous Fijians and rural areas.1
Fiji’s population and ethnic groupings 1
There are an estimated 809,000 people living in the Fiji Islands, with 775,000 counted in the last official Census (August 1996). The population of Fiji is twice the size and three times the density of the Solomon Islands. GDP per capita is twice that of Samoa and Papua New Guinea, but a sixth that of New Zealand (Table 1).
Rabuka 1997; Chaudhry 1997.
Table 1: Population details for selected Pacific countries
Number (1997 estimate)
Country New Zealand Fiji Samoa Papua New Guinea Solomon Islands
3,641,000 809,000 168,000 4,500,000 404,000
Population Percent Density (people/km2, under age 1997) 15 (1995) 13 23.2% 44 34.7% 60 38.2% 9 39.5% 13 44.2%
Growth rate GDP per (% yr. 1950- capita (US$ 2030) 1995) 1.16% $ 16,866 1.53% $ 2,593 0.57% $ 1,106 2.27% $ 1,083 3.32% $ 686
Source: United Nations 2000, http://www.un.org/Pubs/CyberSchoolBus/infonation/e_infonation.htm
In the 1996 Census, Fijians made up just over 50 percent of the total population, with Indians contributing a further 44 percent, and other ethnic groups accounting for the remaining percentage points (Table 2). Fijians increased from 46% to 51% of the total population between the last two censuses (1986 and 1996), while Indians fell from 49% to 44%. In numerical terms, between 1986 and 1996 the number of Fijians increased (+64,000), while the number of Indians decreased (-9,900). These developments reversed a trend which has been in existence since 1946, where there had been a greater number of Indians than Fijians in Fiji (Figure 1). Figure 1: Fijians, Indians and other ethnic groups 1881 – 1996, census years 450000 400000
F i ji a n In d ia n
350000 O th e r s
300000 250000 200000 150000 100000 50000 0 1881
C ensus Year
Source: Fiji Islands Statistics Bureau
Fijians are predominantly of Melanesian descent. On the island of Rotuma, there are also indigenous people of Polynesian descent (termed Rotumans). Fijians are most likely to be Christian, and Indian Fijians most likely to be Hindu. The most recent estimates from the 1986 census are: Christian (primarily Methodist) 53%; Hindu 38%; Muslim 8%; others 1%. The principal languages are English (official), Fijian, and Hindustani.
Table 2: Population and ethnicity of Fiji, 1986 and 1996 censuses
Ethnic Group Fijians Indians Europeans & part-Europeans Rotumans Chinese All Others Total
1986 Census Number Percentage 329,305 46% 348,704 49% 14,493 2% 8,652 1% 4,784 1% 9,437 1% 715,375 100%
1996 Census Number Percentage 393,575 51% 338,818 44% 14,788 2% 9,727 1% 4,939 1% 13,230 2% 775,077 100%
Source: Fiji Islands Statistics Bureau.
The Fijian economy
Fiji has the biggest economy and is the most populated of the South Pacific island countries. It is also the second richest in income-per-person terms (after the Cook Islands). However, in many respects the Fijian economy is weak and fragile. It is highly dependent upon only a few goods and services which are subject to substantial price and volume fluctuations; there is a significant subsistence sector; and large socio-economic inequities exist. A fourth of the land is in agricultural production. Major environmental issues include deforestation and soil erosion. Export earnings are dominated by sugar, manufactured garments, and tourism. The first two items each made up a quarter of the total of $893 million (F$955m) merchandise exports in 1998. Tourism earned a further $452 million (F$482m). About a sixth of total GDP is accounted for by tourism. Sugar especially is subject to wide fluctuations of price and demand, with substantial effects on the economy. For example, a downturn in sugar exports was largely responsible for negative GDP growth over 1997 and 1998. This was the result of a combination of a devastating cyclone, prolonged drought, and industrial strikes.
Fiji is not a major export market for New Zealand products in dollar terms, although we are the third largest exporter of goods into Fiji. New Zealand exported $225 million worth of goods to Fiji in the year ending December 1999 (Table 3). This represents 1% of all New Zealand’s exports, making Fiji its 19th largest export market. Goods imported from Fiji over the same period were worth $66 million. This represents 0.2% of all imports into New Zealand, with Fiji being well outside the top 20 countries of origin for imports. Table 3: New Zealand’s trade with Fiji 1995 – 1999 Year ending 31 December 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
NZ Exports NZ Imports from New Zealand's Trade to Fiji ($M) Fiji ($M) Balance ($M) 184 52 132 187 46 141 205 52 153 214 56 158 225 66 159
Source: Statistics New Zealand, INFOS Database
The main products traded with Fiji are shown in the following table (Table 4). Machinery, meat, iron and steel, are the major exports. The major imports are apparel, clothing and textiles, footwear, and vegetables. Table 4: New Zealand’s main exports to and imports from Fiji in 1999 Exports Machinery Meat Iron and Steel Paper and Paperboard Dairy Products Vegetables Plastics and Articles of Plastic Mineral Fuels and Oils
$ Million 28 21 19 14 14 13 10 10
Imports Apparel, Clothing and Textiles Footwear Vegetables Wood and Articles of Wood Iron and Steel Fish and preparations of Fish Preparations of Cereals, Flour, etc Furniture
$ Million 25 13 11 5 3 1 1 1
Source: Statistics New Zealand, INFOS Database
As at 31 March 1999, New Zealand had direct investments of $21 million in Fiji. While this represents only 0.16% of New Zealand’s total direct investment overseas, it is likely to be a considerably higher proportion of total foreign direct investment in Fiji.2 Fijian direct investment into New Zealand is negligible.
New Zealand gave $5.1 million of bilateral official development assistance to Fiji in 1998/99. This was equivalent to 2.5% of total official development assistance from the New Zealand government, and around 9% of official development assistance received by Fiji.
Fiji citizens made up 1.3% of all overseas students in New Zealand schools in July 1999, and 4.6% of all overseas students in tertiary education. The numbers have fallen somewhat over the last five years (Table 5). Eleven percent of the secondary school students and 42 percent of tertiary education students are here studying on Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade scholarships, with fee paying students contributing about $3 million worth of fees revenue. 3 Table 5: Number of students from Fiji in New Zealand 1995 – 1999 1 July 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
School 87 95 94 74 80
Post-school 496 375 441 367 358
Total 583 470 535 441 438
Source: Ministry of Education.
Fiji does not publish data on the total amount of foreign direct investment in Fiji. This is based on a Statistics New Zealand estimate of average fees of $8,000 for foreign fee-paying secondary school students, and $12,000 for tertiary students. 3
Fiji is a popular holiday destination for New Zealanders and many Fijian citizens visit New Zealand for a variety of reasons. In the year to April 2000, 69,332 people visited Fiji from New Zealand (Figure 2). This represents 5.7% of all people departing on overseas visits. Of these visitors, 74% were on holiday, 11% visiting friends or relatives, 11% on business, and 4% for other reasons. The number of people visiting Fiji increased steadily during the 1990s, decreased during the 1980s and experienced a discernible fall during late 1987 due to the coup. Visitors from Fiji to New Zealand were considerably fewer, numbering 14,713 over the year to April 2000 (although a similar figure in population-adjusted terms). This represents 0.9% of all visitors to New Zealand. Of these visitors 19% were on holiday, 48% visiting friends and relatives, 14% were on business, 4% were visiting for education or medical reasons, and 15% for other reasons. Figure 2: Annual short-term visitors to and from Fiji 80000
A r r i v a ls f r o m F i ji
D e p a r t u r e s t o F i ji
50000 40000 30000 20000 10000
M o n th o f Y e a r E n d
Source: Statistics New Zealand
In the same year, there were 429 permanent and long-term departures to Fiji, and 1,489 such arrivals from Fiji (Figure 3). These made up 0.6% and 2.4% respectively of all permanent and long-term departures and arrivals. The number of arrivals has consistently grown over the last eight years but is significantly less than the influx of arrivals into New Zealand following the 1987 coup. The number of permanent arrivals from Fiji peaked in the September 1988 year at 2,409, with 1,489 arriving in the year to April 2000. Figure 3: Annual permanent and long-term migrants to and from Fiji 3000
A r r i v a ls f r o m F i ji 2500
D e p a r t u r e s t o F i ji
Visitors and migrants
M o n th o f Y e a r E n d
Source: Statistics New Zealand
Current political issues
The indigenous Fijians have retained 83% of their land, and the leases held by Indians over Fijian land are due to expire over the period 1997 to 2024. Although the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act is given special status in the constitution, Fijian fear of dispossession under an Indian government and Indian fear of loss of lease land remain crucial issues for resolution. Racial or ethnic conflict is usually given as a reason behind the coups in Fiji, but academic observers have noted other key contributing factors. These include ‘custom’ (fears among traditional rural-based Fijian chiefs about loss of control to urban Fijians and non-Fijians) and ‘class’ (conflict between workers, both Fijian and Indian, and the upper class).4 Prime Minister Chaudhry allocated 11 of the 18 Cabinet posts to people of indigenous Fijian descent, and five of the 37 seats won by the Fijian Labour Party in 1999 were held by Fijians. Nonetheless, observers have commented that Fiji is not yet ready for an Indian leader of the country, and that Chaudhry perhaps should have deferred to his Fijian colleagues, such as his FLP deputy Tupeni Baba, or Adi Kuini Speed, leader of Fijian Association Party (FAP) and widow of previous Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra.
Asian Development Bank, 1999, Asian Development Outlook, New York. Chaudhry, Mahendra, 1997, Fiji’s Constitution: Electoral reform – “Not the way it should be”, The Parliamentarian 78(4):300-303 Ewins, Rory, 1998, Colour, Class and Custom: The Literature of the 1987 Fiji Coup, 2nd edition, on http://www.speedysnail.com/pacific/fiji_coup/ Fiji Islands Statistics Bureau. http://www.statsfiji.gov.fj Henderson, John, 1999, The Fiji Election, New Zealand International Review 24(4):15-17. Rabuka, Hon. Maj.-Gen. Sitiveni, 1997, A Constructive Constitution: Fiji’s new system on multiparty government, The Parliamentarian 78(4):298-299 Reeves, Sir Paul, Tomasi Rayalu Vakatora, Brij Vilash Lal, 1996, The Fiji Islands: Towards a United Future: Report of the Fiji Constitution Review Commission 1996, Parliament of Fiji, Parliamentary Paper No. 34 of 1996. The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000, Country Report. Pacific Islands: Fiji, New Caledonia, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu. London.
Grant Cleland, Andrew Morrison, Dana Peterson, David Williams Parliamentary Library For more information contact Library Reference and Research (ext.9888) Copyright NZ Parliamentary Library Except for educational purposes permitted under the Copyright Act 1994, no part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, other than by Members of Parliament in the course of their official duties, without the consent of the Parliamentary Librarian, Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand.
Ewins 1998; Henderson 1999. Note that the current majority party has trade union support while the majority Fijian party has the support of the chiefs. The Prime Minister was a trade union official, and the army is overwhelmingly Fijian with strong links to the traditional chiefs.
Appendix A Allocation of elected seats for Fijian House of Representatives 1970 to present
RESERVED SEATS - indigenous Fijians - Indians - Rotoma Islanders - other citizens OPEN SEATS total
1970 constitution (pre-coup)
1990 constitution (post-coup)
Commission recommendations in 1996
1997 constitution (1999 election)
22 * 22 * 8 52
37 27 1 5 70
12 10 1 2 45 70
23 19 1 3 25 71
* For each group of 22, 12 to be elected from the Fijian or Indian community electoral roll and 10 to be elected from the national electoral roll (“cross-voting”). Sources: as for table below, plus Reeves et. al 1996 p.295; Reeves 1998, p. 223.
Appendix B Fijian political parties and election results: 1987, 1994, and 1999 Political party (party orientation)
AP = Alliance Party SVT = Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei = Fijian Political Party (nationalist) FAP = Fijian Association Party (nationalist) VLV = Veitokani ni Lewenivanua Vakarisito = CDA = Christian Democratic Alliance (christian-democratic) PANU = Party of National Unity ANC = All Nationals Congress NVTLP = Nationalist Vanua Takolavo Party NFP = National Federation Party FLP = Fiji Labour Party (social-democratic)
Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara Maj. Gen. Sitivini Rabuka Ratu Inoke Kubuabola
first party to govern Fiji formed by the Great Council of Chiefs in 1990
Adi Kuini Speed Isimeli Cokanasiga Rev. Manasa Lasaro Poseci Bune
breakaway faction of SVT for Christian and native Fijian rights, against new constitution
Meli Bogileka Apisai Tora
supports inclusive government
supports a Fijians-only parliament
UGP = United General Party (centrist) Independents Rotuma Island representative total elected seats
Jai Ram Reddy Mahendra Chaudhry Tupeni Baba (Dr. Timoci Bavadra led the 1987 government) David Pickering
Seats won Feb. May 1999 1994
main ethnic links Fijian Fijian
April 1987 24 -
8 (5 Fijian + 3 open)
37 (19 Indian + 18 open) 2
1 1 70
5 1* 71
Indian supported by Fiji Trades Union (FTUC)
Indian, Fijian, union
previously General Voters Party and General Electors Party
Notes: the first coup (May 1987) followed the April 1987 election. Loss of seats for NFP in 1999 has been attributed to their cooperation with SVT on the new constitution. * Election results which are available do not specify which party this representative belongs to. Sources: Keesings Record of World Events 45(5):42948; Europa Yearbook 1999;The Economist Intelligence Unit Pacific Islands, 3rd and 4th quarter 1999, 1st quarter 2000; Chaudhry 1997; Henderson 1999; http://www.agora.stm.it/election/fiji.htm; http://www.cnn.com/world/election.watch/asiapcf/fiji.html.