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Global 21 fourth quarter 2015

Fiji and the Commonwealth 1970 Fiji joins the Commonwealth as a newly independent nation 1987 Fiji becomes a republic and so has to reapply for membership, but in light of the recent coup its application is rejected on the grounds that its government was not elected in accordance with Commonwealth principles 1997 Fiji rejoins the Commonwealth with democracy restored 2000 Fiji is suspended from Commonwealth councils. Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon appoints Justice Pius N. Langa, Deputy President of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, to help accelerate the restoration of democracy and promote national unity 2001 The suspension is lifted 2006 Following another coup, Fiji is once again suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth 2009 Having failed to satisfy the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) that it is committed to a timetable for restoring democracy, Fiji is fully suspended from the Commonwealth 2014 In March CMAG recognises the progress made to hold elections by September 2014 and commutes Fiji’s full suspension to suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth. In September, following the elections, Fiji is readmitted as a full member a period of racial unrest, during which the Great Council of Chiefs attempted to introduce constitutional reforms. Rabuka then led a second coup in September 1987 and in October he declared Fiji a republic. The change of constitutional status meant that Fiji had to reapply to join the Commonwealth, but in light of the undemocratic coup its membership was not renewed (see timeline). By the late 1990s, Fiji had rejoined the Commonwealth and adopted a new constitution. Following elections in May 1999, FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry became the first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister, promising to defuse ethnic tensions and restore economic growth. But in May 2000, armed ethnic Fijians, led by George Speight, overthrew the government, occupying the parliament building and taking about 40 hostages – including the Prime Minister. The army once again took control of the country in Fiji’s third coup. Negotiations between the army and the rebels ensued until the deadlock was finally broken in July, when the hostages were released. Speight and some of his supporters were arrested and charged with treason. The May 2006 general election was won by the United Fiji Party (Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua or SDL). However, in December 2006 the army took control of the government, dismissing the Prime Minister and President, with head of the army Commodore Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama assuming the presidency. In January 2007 Bainimarama reinstated the President and became interim Prime Minister. Fiji’s Court of Appeal ruled in April 2009 that the military coup that had ousted the elected government in 2006, and the interim government that followed it, were illegal. But the government refused to stand down and allow elections to take place. In 2014, Bainimarama finally gave in to domestic and international pressure to hold a general election and restore democracy. He resigned his military position, in order to stand as a civilian in the election, and formed the FijiFirst party. The general election held on 17 September 2014 – the first under a new 2013 constitution – was won by FijiFirst with 59 per cent of votes, so Bainimarama was sworn in as Prime Minister. A multinational observer group decided that the elections were credible and broadly represented the will of the Fijian people. At his election Bainimarama promised to govern for all Fijians and that his government would not pander to special interest groups, elites or geographical areas of the country. With his newfound electoral legitimacy, Bainimarama has set about improving international relations, with The Economist predicting that Fiji could be ripe for ‘substantial’ foreign investment. In May this year, it was announced that Fiji had established diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. In the same month Bainimarama visited Thailand, which led to the signing of an agreement on technical The government won international praise when it announced it was ditching the death penalty co-operation between the two countries that will see the exchange of experts and collaboration on economic and social development. Bainimarama called the arrangement “a solid platform for both countries to extend our co-operation into other areas of mutual interest”. In June the government announced that it was trading with more countries than ever before. One of Fiji’s most significant international partners is China. Bainimarama visited the Asian powerhouse earlier this year, with Fiji’s Attorney- General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum receiving a delegation of Chinese businessmen and women in August. China’s aid programme has seen it provide generous funding to Pacific island nations, as China vies with Australia, New Zealand and the USA for influence in the region. As such, China had already been supporting Fiji, mainly in the form of concessional loans, but the most recent talks could see Chinese investors putting funds into projects in Fiji’s health, agriculture and education sectors, as well as improving infrastructure. Sayed-Khaiyum says: “The areas in which China can provide aid and expertise are of critical importance to our government and will help us reach our goal of improving these sectors in a sustainable manner.” Recent tax reforms have also seen the government try to accelerate the economy and foster closer relations with the business community. Faiyaz Koya, Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, says: “Government, amongst other things, has reduced and streamlined taxes, provided In Focus Fiji four 56 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2015 global


Global 21 fourth quarter 2015
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