Fiji Facts
Area:    18,270 sq. km.
Capital:    Suva
Total Population:    803,000 (source: various, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Native Fijians as of 2003 controlled the government of Fiji. Rebellion is unlikely so long as that state of affairs continues. However, should the East Indian-dominated Labor Party regain power or an East Indian be named Prime Minister, rebellion will be highly likely.

The future of the indigenous Fijians will likely depend on whether they are able to negotiate a political compromise with the country's other major community, the East Indians. To date, the Fijians have rejected any electoral victories by the East Indians. It remains to be seen if they are willing to reach an agreement that would allow the institutionalization of a power-sharing agreement that would give a voice to both of the two groups who comprise the country's population.

Analytic Summary

The indigenous Fijians are predominantly urban dwellers who are dispersed across the South Pacific island. Fiji comprises approximately 320 islands which cover some 650,000 square kilometers. There has been no substantial migration of group members across the country's regions.

The native Fijians are of Melanesian and Polynesian descent which distinguishes them from the country's other community, the East Indians, whose ancestors are from India (RACE = 3). Group members speak the same language, Fijian (LANG = 1) in contrast to the East Indian community which uses Hindi. The indigenous Fijians are mostly Christians, especially Methodist, while the East Indians follow Hinduism or Islam.

When the British colonized Fiji in 1874, they chose to govern through indirect rule, following divide and rule policies that favored the indigenous Fijians to the disadvantage of the East Indians. By cooperating with the British, traditional Fijian chiefs were able to maintain their political and economic advantages. In order to exploit the potential of Fiji's sugar cane resources, the British required a large workforce. As a result, from 1879 to 1916, some 60,500 Indians were brought to the country to work as indentured servants on the plantations.

The politicization of ethnicity in Fiji came to the forefront in the 1940s when Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, paramount chief of the Bau, demanded that the traditional chieftaincy system be maintained as democratic rule could threaten the political dominance of the indigenous Fijians. By this time, the East Indians were reported to outnumber the native population. In 1966, the Alliance Party (AP) was formed with the mandate of protecting the political rights and interests of the native Fijians.

The Alliance Party ruled Fiji for the first seven years after independence (1970-77). However, the Indian-dominated opposition emerged victorious after the 1977 elections. Fearful of how the native community would react, the opposition did not form a government. In the mid-1980s, the Fiji Labor Party (FLP) was created as a result of a coalition between East Indians and labor organizations. The FLP went on to win the 1987 elections with Timoci Bavadra becoming the country's first East Indian Prime Minister. Bavadra's rule was to be short-lived as his government was overthrown in a military coup by Lt-Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, who alleged that his actions were undertaken to preempt communal violence. What followed was widespread communal violence along with demonstrations pressing for the reinstatement of Bavadra. Thousands of East Indians left the country after the coup.

The native Fijian Great Council of Chiefs approved the country's 1990 constitution that entrenched indigenous political domination through the reservation of legislative seats for each community. Rabuka became Prime Minister. Through the first half of the decade, the East Indians protested against the racially-biased constitution while extremist indigenous groups supported the government's actions. In 1997 a new constitution was approved. It increased the size of the House of Representatives while reducing the number of seats reserved for each community. Further, while the Prime Minister could be a Fijian of any race, the position of President was reserved for a native Fijian. Extremist Fijians responded by firebombing the country's main power plant (REB98 = 3).

Elections held in 1999 were won by the Fiji Labor Party and once again the country was going to be ruled by an East Indian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry. The FLP coalition won 52 out of 71 parliamentary seats and some native Fijians responded by engaging in arson attacks and anti-government demonstrations which included calls for the expulsion of the East Indians (PROT99 = 3; REB99 = 2). In addition, the indigenous community protested by refusing to renew the land leases that East Indians held and which were due to expire between 1996-2024. The native Fijians own 80% of the land that houses the country's sugar cane plantations while the East Indians produce some 90% of the crop under long-term land leases.

A year after the Chaudhry government assumed office, an extremist native Fijian group led by George Speight seized Parliament in May 2000 and held the Prime Minister and his cabinet hostage until July (REB00 = 3. Although Speight and some of his supporters were subsequently arrested, an interim civilian government retained power, even after the Fijian court ruled it unconstitutional. Transnational diplomatic efforts by the Commonwealth, the UN, various NGOS, and India, the US, the UK, and Australia in favor of the restoration of the Chaudhry regime also were unsuccessful. Elections for a new government were held in August 2001. The United Fiji Party, headed by interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, won the most seats (31) and formed a government with coup-leader George Speight's ultra-nationalist Conservative Alliance Party. Ousted PM Mahendra Chaudry's Labor Party won 27 seats. Qarase, although constitutionally obligated to offer cabinet posts to Labor, excluded them from a cabinet dominated by ethnic Fijians. Courts then ruled that Qarase had to include ethnic Indians in his cabinet; however, at the end of 2003, Qarase had not complied with court orders (POLDIS01-03 = 0). Speight, although winning a seat, was barred from parliament for failure to attend. He later pleaded guilty to treason for the 2000 coup and was sentenced to death, although Qarase commuted his sentence to life in prison. No native Fijian protest or rebellion was reported during 2001-2003 (PROT01-03 = 0, REB01-03 = 0).

Economic grievances are the primary concerns of most native Fijians. These include desires for greater opportunities in the economic and educational spheres. The issue of maintaining their dominance over the ownership of land is also important and it has gained further prominence in recent years as leases to East Indians to produce sugar cane are set to expire within the next two decades. Native Fijians continue to have lower average incomes than East Indians, despite the presence of remedial policies (ECDIS01-03 = 1).

Group members are primarily represented by conventional political organizations although there are minor militant elements such as the George Speight group. The major political parties are the SVT, the Fijian Association Party, a breakaway element of the SVT, and the Party of National Unity which was formed in 1999. The native Fijians are a strong identity group as evidenced in the fact that the majority of group members support these organizations (COHESX9 = 5).

Relations between the indigenous Fijians and the East Indians erupted in violence during the 1998-2000 period. Along with anti-East Indian demonstrations by native Fijian groups, communal attacks against the East Indians occurred following the April 1999 installation of the East Indian Prime Minister. In 2001, native Fijians engaged in sporadic violent attacks against the East Indian community. In 2002, no attacks resulting in fatalities were reported, although Fijian harassment of East Indians occurred. No incidents of intercommunal conflict were reported in 2003 (COMCON01 = 3, COMCON02 = 1, COMCON03 = 0).


Lawson, Stephanie. 1996. Tradition Versus Democracy in the South Pacific: Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lexis/Nexis. News reports. 1988-2003.

Premdas, Ralph R. 1993. Ethnicity and Development: The Case of Fiji. Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.

The Far East and Australasia. 1999. London: Europa Publications.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Fiji. 2001-2003.


This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.