AuthorHenderson, John

John Henderson comments on the outcome of the recent election in Fiji.

Fiji faces a period of political uncertainty following the election in May of its first Indian-led government headed by the 56-year-old Fiji Labour Party (FLP) leader, Mahendra Chaudhry. In 1987 a similar outcome resulted in two military coups staged by the man Chaudhry replaced as Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka. A decade earlier, in 1977, the then dominant Indian party, the National Federation Party (NFP), failed to follow through on its election victory and form a government because it considered indigenous Fijians would not accept an Indian dominated government. But Chaudhry has decided the time is fight for an Indian to lead Fiji. This article outlines the election results, briefly analyses the reasons behind them, and discusses the future implications, including the likelihood of a further military coup

The election gave the predominantly Indian FLP 37 of the 71 parliamentary seats, making it the first party in Fiji's political history to gain an absolute majority in Parliament. Five of these FLP MPs are indigenous Fijians, including the deputy leader, Tupeni Baba. The other mainly Indian Party (and Fiji's oldest political party), the NFP, failed to gain any seats. Chaudhry, in an effort to appease indigenous Fijian fears about an Indian dominated government, has chosen to govern in coalition with the two Fijian parties with which he formed an electoral alliance -- the Fijian Association Party (FAP) and the Party of National Unity (PANU) -- and which gained 11 and four seats respectively. Together this so-called `people's coalition' won an overwhelming 52 of the 71 parliamentary seats. The new Fijian party, the Veitokani Ni Lewenivanua Vakaristo (VLV), which gained three seats with the support of FLP preference votes, has also joined the governing coalition. As the VLV had the backing of the Methodist Church it had been expected to poll better, but was handicapped by some of its more extreme elements, which favoured the restoration of the ban on Sunday activities which had been imposed following the 1987 coups.

Rabuka's defeat can be attributed in a large part to a general yearning for a change after his seven years as Prime Minister. Although Rabuka demonstrated considerable political survival skills, his government seemed to bounce from one corruption scandal to another. His own assessment made during the campaign summed up the focus of the election: `You must realise that this election is about getting me out.'

Belated revenge

The split in the Fiji vote helps explain the scale of the defeat of Rabuka's Soqosoqo Ni Vakavulewa Ni Taukei (SVT) party, which gained just eight seats. Rabuka was rejected by the Fijian and Indian communities for opposite reasons. For Indian voters it was an opportunity to seek revenge for the 1987 military coups. This was clearly a major factor in turning Indian voters away from the NFP, which formed an electoral alliance with Rabuka's SVT...

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