Fiji. The interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who
took power in a coup in December 2006, dropped the cabinet
in early January and merged several ministries. At the same
time, he extended his own area of responsibility to
multi-ethnic issues, the public sector, information and
more. In February, Bainimarama appointed himself chairman of
a reformed chief's council. The Prime Minister, i.e.
Bainimarama himself, appoints the Council's 52 members who
sit for three-year terms. The Chief Council has great power
when, among other things, it appoints the country's
president. The old council had 62 members, some of whom sat
for life. Bainimarama resigned from the former chief council
in April 2007, after refusing to support his election of
In March, Bainimarama appointed an independent commission
to investigate tax evasion allegations against Finance
Minister Mahendra Chaudhry. The Commission concluded that
Chaudhry had not committed any crime.
According to Digopaul,
the Australian editor-in-chief of the Fiji Sun newspaper
who first issued the charges against the finance minister
had been expelled from Fiji as early as February. In May, the
editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times, also he Australian, was
expelled on the grounds that some of his articles meant
"breach of the country's security". The expulsions were
criticized by, among others, the Australian Foreign
Minister, who said they were showing "a serious erosion of
human rights". The Fiji Times editor was deported the day
after Bainimarama sharply criticized the country's media for
provoking, destabilizing and threatening the country's
security in some of its elements.
Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, overthrown by
Bainimarama, reported in March to the Supreme Court that the
dismissal of his government was unconstitutional and that
President Ratu Josefa Iloilo was not entitled to appoint
Bainimarama as interim prime minister after the military
coup in 2006. In October, the Supreme Court dismissed the
Supreme Court said that Bainimarama's military takeover of
power was legal. Before journalists, Qarase questioned the
independence of the courts.
In February, Qarase had been charged with four cases of
corruption during his time in power. He denied the charges.
In June, Bainimarama announced that his government had
interrupted the dialogue with the Pacific Islands Forum
(PIF), which aimed to help Fiji reinstate democracy.
Bainimarama said the talks were no longer meaningful and
accused Australia and New Zealand in particular of not being
genuinely interested in Fiji's development. The governments
of both countries had condemned Bainimarama's government for
its human rights violations. The PIF tried to convince the
coup maker to resume the talks, but he also refused and did
not attend the forum meeting in Niue August 19-21.
At a press conference on August 18, Bainimarama announced
that he could not fulfill his promise of elections in March
2009. The reason was, he said, that a new electoral system
would be agreed. Once a decision on a new electoral system
had been made, it would take 12–15 months before elections
could be held. Bainimarama said he agreed to hold elections
in March 2009 because he was pressed for it by other PIF
leaders. During their meeting in Niue, PIF leaders
threatened to exclude Fiji from the forum at the turn of the
year unless Bainimarama resumed dialogue with them and
worked to hold elections in March 2009.
On the same day, Bainimarama also announced another
refurbishment of the government. The Labor Party FLP left
the government, which meant that Mahendra Chaudhry resigned
as finance minister and two more FLP ministers left their
posts. Bainimarama once again extended its own area of
responsibility by also assuming the role of finance
In the autumn, the government tried to change Fiji's
constitution to remove the ethnic quotas from politics.
Bainimarama already said after the coup that his goal was
for voters to stop voting based on the candidates' ethnic
Tensions between the country's largest ethnic groups, the
native Fijians and the Fiji Indians, descendants of
immigrants from India, have been a major cause of the
A delegation from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) came to
Fiji on December 11 to try to persuade Bainimarama to carry
out the elections in March 2009. However, Bainimarama gave
no new message. At the end of December, relations between
Fiji and New Zealand deteriorated, expelling each other's
ambassadors. The conflict started with the son of a senior
Fijian civil servant having been denied a student visa in
New Zealand. Fiji then denied a visa to Australia's defense
advisers in the region, which the Australian government
described as a destructive decision.
At the end of December, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon
announced that the UN and the Commonwealth would mediate to
reach an agreement on the Fiji parliamentary elections.