Austronesians are believed to have been the first people to populate the Fijian islands around 3,500 years ago. They were followed by Melanesians a thousand years later.
Fijian legend would have you believe that indigenous peoples today are descended from chief Lutunasobasoba and those who arrived with him on the Kaunitoni canoe. Landing at what is now Vuda.
Europeans arrived in the form of Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, in 1643 and Captain James Cook in 1774, but none stopped for long. It wasn’t until 1822 that Europeans settled at Levuka with the first Christian missionaries following later to eradicate the practice of cannibalism.
Prince Enele Ma’afu of Tonga arrived in 1847 and established his settlement in Lakeba. But in 1874 Fiji was ceded to the British and it became a possession and dependency of the British Crown. A year later, in 1875 an outbreak of measles brought in by the European settlers nearly wiped out the Fijian population but fortunately health campaigns managed to stem the tide and the population slowly recovered.
Over the next forty the British brought with them around 60,000 labourers from India to work on the island’s sugarcane plantations and that brought racial conflict that has affected the country ever since.
By 1904 a Legislative Council had been established as a partially elected body for the European settlers with Fijian chiefs being given some input. By 1916 the importing of Indian labourers had stopped and in 1918 a fresh bout of French flu killed more Fijians. Later, Indians were given the opportunity to return to their homeland but many preferred to stay and today there is a large Indian community largely within the agricultural sector.
Curiously wealthy Indians were given the franchise in 1929 and the first Indian representation on the Legislative Council was approved. It wasn’t until 1963 that indigenous Fijians were enfranchised with representation on the Legislative Council.
By this point Fijians were agitating for independence which led to a constitutional conference in 1965 where little was decided. In April 1970 a fresh Constitutional conference in London brought a compromise constitutional formula and on 10th October 1970 Fiji attains independence, ending 96 years of British rule.
The first election in 1972 was won by the Alliance Party led by Sir Kamisese Mara which took 33 of the 52 seats in the Legislative Council. The Indo-Fijian-dominated National Federation Party, led by Sidiq Koya, won the remaining 19 seats.
In March 1977 the Nationalist Federation Party took the most seats with 26 seats to the Alliance Party’s 24 seats. However, three days after the election the Nationalist federation Party split over the leadership and Governor General, Sir George Cakobau called on Sir Kamisese Mara to form a government.
Sir Kamisese Mara and the Alliance Party were to win the next two elections comfortably, in September 1977 and 1982 but in 1987 the Alliance Party lost narrowly to the National Federation Party. It was the first transfer of power in the short independent history of Fiji and on 13th April Timoci Bavadra became Prime Minister. However, the transfer of power was from an indigenous-led Conservative government to a multi-ethnic led coalition.
Bavandra’s tenure was painfully short when on 14th May Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka carried out a coup d’état. On 28th September Rabuka carried out a second coup in which the Fijian monarchy was abolished and Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State was deposed and a republic declared. On 5th December Sir Penaia Kanatabatu Ganilau was appointed as the first President of Fiji.
A new constitution was ratified in 1990 which ensured that the President, Prime Minister and more than half of the Senate and House of Representatives were reserved for indigenous Fijians.
Rabuka became Prime Minister in 1992 following elections in which his Fijian Political Party (Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei or SVT) won 30 of the 71 seats in the House of Representatives and in 1994 they won again with 32 seats.
However, Rabuka had been forced to compromise after the 1994 election and in 1997 a revised constitution undid much of the racist elements of the 1990 constitution. The result, in September 1999, was a win for the Fiji Labour Party with 37 of the 71 seats in the House of Representatives. Mahendra Chaudhry, leader of the Labour Party and an Indo-Fijian took office as Prime Minister.
Again the Prime Minister had a short tenure. This time a civilian coup d’état was led by George Speight and a group who kidnapped 36 government officials including the Prime Minister on 19th May 2000, holding them hostage for nearly two months. Speight swore in Timoci Silatolu as Prime Minister and Jope Seniloli as President.
Speight’s coup was short lived and on 27th July he, along with 369 of his followers was arrested and charged with treason. Nevertheless it led to a new election in September 2001 in which the newly formed United Fiji Party (Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua – SDL) of interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase won 34 seats to the Fiji Labour Party of deposed former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry which won 27 seats in the 71 seat chamber.
The SDL won two extra seats in September 2006, taking them to 36 of the 71 seats in the House of Representatives. Soon after the election the military and government disagreed over three bills going through parliament relating to the 2000 coup. In November Commodore Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama made nine demands of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase but on 4th/5th December the military carried out a coup d’état.
At first the military were going to hold elections within twelve months but on 29th January 2007, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the coup leader and now interim Prime Minister announced that the next election would be around five years away.
In September 2013 a new constitution, the fourth in Fiji’s short independent history, was signed into law by President Epeli Nailatikau. The new constitution gets rid of the race-based electoral rolls, race-based seat quotas and district-based representation. It also gets rid of the unelected upper chamber or Senate and the role of the hereditary Council of Chiefs. Legislative authority now rests in a unicameral Parliament of 50 seats following fresh elections in 2014.
The President is appointed by Parliament for a three year term.
The unicameral Parliament consists of 50 members who are elected by a multi-member open list system of proportional representation, under which each voter has one vote, with each vote being of equal value, in a single national electoral roll comprising all the registered voters. Members of Parliament shall serve a maximum four year term.