Ethnocracy and Post-Ethnocracy in Fiji

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Sanjay Ramesh


Fiji’s history is interspersed with ethnic conflict, military coups, new constitutions and democratic elections. Ethnic tensions started to increase in the 1960s and reached its peak with violent indigenous Fijian ethnic assertion in the form of military coups in 1987. Following the coup, the constitution adopted at independence was abrogated and a constitution that provided indigenous political hegemony was promulgated in 1990. However, by 1993, there were serious and irreparable divisions within the indigenous Fijian community, forcing coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka to spearhead a constitution review. The result of the review was the multiracial 1997 Constitution which failed to resolve deep seated ethnic tensions, resulting in another nationalist coup in 2000 and a mutiny at the military barracks in December of that year. Following the failed mutiny, the Commander of the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces, Voreqe Bainimarama, publicly criticised nationalist policies of the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, culminating in another military coup in 2006. The new military government started plans to de-ethnise the Fijian state and promulgated a constitution that promoted ethnic equality.

Post independence Fiji is characterised by these conflicts over ethnocracy. The ethnic hegemony of indigenous Fijian chiefs is set against inter-ethnic counter hegemony. While democratic politics encourages inter-ethic alliance-building, the ethnic hegemony of the chiefs has been asserted by force. Latterly, the fragmentation of the ethnic hegemony has reconfigured inter-ethnic alliances, and the military has emerged as a vehicle for de-ethnicisation. The article analyses this cyclical pattern of ethnic hegemony and multiethnic counter hegemony as a struggle over (and against) Fijian ethnocracy. 

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