Contemporary political events and issues in Fiji, especially in the period between 1987 and 2017, can be understood most fully by analyzing the dynamics of ongoing power rivalry in Fiji. Within this thirty-year period, Fiji has had three military and one civilian/military coups d'état, highlighting modern and customary struggles for national leadership. While military and national leadership has remained in the hands of Indigenous Fijian males since 1987, and coup leaders–turned–national leaders have also been Indigenous Fijian males, the reasons for staging coups and for supporting coups have shifted over time. In 1987, Sitiveni Rabuka staged two military coups to return political leadership to Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's Alliance Party. In 2000, George Speight staged a failed coup. However, the ruling Fiji Labour Party Coalition was not returned to power. Frank Bainimarama's [End Page 492] military coup d'état in 2006 was dubbed as a "cleanup campaign" to rid Fiji of a variety of ills such as corruption and nepotism. Bainimarama's leadership is ongoing, albeit with a number of issues voiced by his opponents.
Fiji's political evolution through all the coup periods has reflected the nature of power rivalry among different elite groups, wherein class and ethnicity merged and also conflicted, raising other problems. National leadership through the militarization of the state saw the enforcement of democracy through the barrel of a gun. Military dictatorships after coups created their own sociopolitical and economic relations, conducive to strengthening their grapples for power. Fiji's political economy between 1987 and 2017 has been driven by these national power contests. These three decades have seen the emergence of politically ambitious military coup leaders, at times supporting the interests of some Indigenous leaders and the business class and at times clashing with these interests. Against this historical background, this review highlights unfolding and ongoing political issues and events in Fiji in 2017.
Fiji's population in the 2017 census was 884,887, reflecting a gradual increase of 47,660 after the 2007 census. The Fijian male population overall was 50.7 percent, surpassing that of the female population at 49.3 percent. Approximately 70 percent of Fiji's population is below the age of 40 (Fiji One News, 13 Jan 2018).
The urban population increased to 494,252 or 65.9 percent of the overall population. This was an increase of 10 percent over the last census, when the urban population was 55.9 percent of the total. Fiji's Bureau of Statistics explained the slow increase in the overall population as due to factors including high outward migration and a decrease in fertility levels. The increase in the urban population may be due also to a number of factors, for instance, the extension of town boundaries and the rural-to-urban drift due to the availability of schools, health-care facilities, and employment in the urban areas (Fiji One News, 13 Jan 2018). An unstated but real factor that causes rural-to-urban drift in less-industrialized countries like Fiji is the lack of development in the rural and remote areas or in isolated islands.
As a consequence of urban migration, the populations of some provinces in Fiji were on the decline in 2017. This included the two eastern maritime provinces of Lau and Lomaiviti as well as Macuata on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second-largest island. A decline in rural population may also be attributed to a lack of infrastructure development in the rural areas, especially in the maritime provinces, where shipping has always been irregular. As a result, the main island of Viti Levu, where most towns are located and where most development occurs, has approximately 600,000 inhabitants or 70 percent of the overall population. Another key factor that contributed to the decrease in population in provinces like Macuata was the nonrenewal of sugarcane leases from 1990 onward (Lal, Lim-Applegate, and Reddy 2001).
The nonrenewal of leases caused Indo-Fijian farmers either to migrate to Viti Levu or to leave Fiji and [End Page 493] migrate overseas. The land issue has been a long-standing one in Fiji ever since the British colonial government prevented the...