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April 4, 2014

A history of Fiji and the Commonwealth

Written by Kylie Barton

It has recently been announced that Fiji will take part in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Fiji has, like many ‘developing nations’, had a turbulent history with the Commonwealth, and so we at Island Spirit thought this recent development is a good point to look back over the history.

After declaring independence in 1970 Fiji was accepted into the Commonwealth, despite the delicacy of the political situation there.  In 1987, Fiji endured two separate military coups before declaring itself a ‘republic’, this lead to the first expulsion from the Commonwealth.

Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth in 1997 after the introduction of a new constitution which promoted non-discrimination as its main principle. After further political turbulence with the storming of parliament, membership was taken away again in the year 2000. A constitutional review panel was commissioned to reassess the constitution, and to re-implement national unity and democratic principles. This expulsion only lasted one year with re-admittance occurring in December 2001, two months after an election was held under the new constitutional principles.

Despite continued worries about misrepresentation in government in the early 2000s, Fiji was only expelled once more in 2006 after an election deemed fare in the interests of the general population was overturned by the military that dismissed the democratically elected prime minister. Once an interim government was installed, the Commonwealth opened a dialogue to try and facilitate and encourage a return to electoral democratic principles held earlier that decade.

The government in power failed to take part in this dialogue in a way that pleased the Commonwealth Commission and so in 2009 a full suspension from the organisation was announced. This meant that as well as being banned from ministerial meetings, all aid was cut off and the country was not able to take part in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The country was also suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum, and European aid was also cut.

At this time there was a promise of democratic elections to be held in 2014, which is still the official line. Elections are due to be held in September 2014, and it is because of this commitment the country has been allowed to enter the 2014 games.  Over half a million Fijians have already registered to vote, and there is an active campaign promoting the democratic election process encouraging people to get involved at every level; as a voter, candidate, member of a party, or otherwise.

Fijian officials are said to be looking forward to a full re-instatement in due course, and that Fijian teams are a part of the 2014 games shows the gradual reintegration and acknowledgment that Fiji is moving towards a fully democratic system enshrining the Commonwealth principles.

What is the Commonwealth?

The commonwealth was founded in 1949 and is the oldest voluntary political association of states. Today, it has 53 independent member countries, the majority of whom are ex British colonies but increasingly ex European colonial countries are being admitted. The Commonwealth is founded on a charter of shared principles of democratic freedoms, human rights, and the rule of law. To be a member, a country must ascribe to this set of principles and demonstrate moves towards the incorporation of this ethos in the political, private, and public sphere. The Commonwealth LOCAL Government Forum has its Pacific Regional office in Suva, Fiji. This office is tasked with strengthening local government and facilitating the exchange of good governance practice within the wider region.