Fiji, which had been inhabited since the second millennium B.C., was explored by the Dutch and the British in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1874, an offer of cession by the Fijian chiefs was accepted, and Fiji was proclaimed a possession and dependency of the British Crown. In the 1880s large-scale cultivation of sugarcane began. Over the next 40 years, more than 60,000 indentured laborers from India were brought to the island to work the plantations. By 1920, all indentured servitude had ended. Racial conflict between Indians and the indigenous Fijians has been central to the small island's history.
Fiji became independent on Oct. 10, 1970. In Oct. 1987, Brig. Gen. Sitiveni Rabuka staged a coup to prevent an Indian-dominated coalition party from taking power. The military coup caused an exodus of thousands of Fijians of Indian origin who suffered ethnic discrimination at the hands of the government.
A new constitution, which took effect in July 1998, provided for a multiracial cabinet and raised the prospect of a coalition government. The previous constitution had guaranteed dominance to ethnic Fijians. In 1999, Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, took office.
Prime Minister Is Deposed in Attempted Coup
Continuing ethnic tensions, partly fueled by economic problems, plunged Fiji into a national nightmare in 2000. On May 19, a group of armed soldiers entered Parliament and took three dozen people hostage, including Prime Minister Chaudhry. George Speight, a part-Fijian businessman, led the insurrection, and he demanded that the 1998 constitution be rewritten to allow dominance of ethnic Fijians. The standoff lasted two months. In July 2000, Speight and other coup leaders were taken into custody and charged with treason. In Feb. 2002, Speight was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted.
Although the coup was foiled, deposed prime minister Chaudhry and his democratically elected government were not restored to power. Instead, the military and the Great Council of Chiefs, a group of 50 traditional Fijian leaders, appointed an interim government dominated by ethnic Fijians. Elections were held in 2001, but no party achieved a majority. Interim prime minister Laisenia Qarase's Fijian United Party won 31 of 71 seats, and Qarase was sworn in as prime minister in September. His cabinet consisted entirely of ethnic Fijians, but the supreme court declared Qarase's government unconstitutional in 2003. In 2004, political infighting stalled the implementation of a new multiethnic cabinet. Much to Prime Minister Qarase's displeasure, Vice President Ratu Jope Seniloli and four other prominent figures were convicted for their part in the 2000 coup and imprisoned in Aug. 2004. In 2005, Qarase backed a highly controversial bill that included an amnesty clause for the 2000 coup leaders. The bill was supported by the Great Council of Chiefs and the ethnic Fijian establishment but vehemently rejected by the opposition (led by former prime minister Chaudhry, who was deposed in the coup) as well as the military. Qarase was narrowly reelected in May 2006 for another five-year term.
Dr. Senilagakali Is Installed As Prime Minister in Fiji's Fourth Coup
In December Fiji's military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, announced he had assumed executive power, deposed Prime Minister Qarase, and appointed Jona Senilagakali, a medical doctor, as interim prime minister. It was the country's fourth coup since 1987. Tensions had built up over several years between the military and Qarase over a corruption scandal and issues regarding the 2000 coup—the military accused the prime minister of excessive leniency toward those who had orchestrated that coup.
In January 2007, Bainimarama reinstated Josefa Iloilo as president. Senilagakali resigned as interim prime minister, and Bainimarama succeeded him.
Bainimarama and the military grabbed more power in April of 2009. Reacting to a ruling by Fiji's Court of Appeal, which stated that the military government was illegally appointed after the 2006 coup and that democratic elections should be held as soon as possible, Bainimarama refused to step down and instead increased censorship of Fiji's media, expelled foreign journalists, and announced that elections would not be held until 2014. President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, believed to be a puppet of Bainimarama, announced that he head repealed the Constitution. Iloilo retired in July and was replaced by Ratu Epeli Nailatikau.
In September, the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of Great Britain and its dependencies and former dependencies, suspended Fiji, saying the country had failed to make progress toward returning to a democracy