Fiji Constitutional Challenge 2009

Fiji government building, by ~maseikula on Flickr

Fiji government building, by ~maseikula on Flickr


On Thursday, April 9 a court of appeals in Fiji declared that military ruler Commodore Voreqe Frank Bainimarama came to power illegally in December 2006 when he dissolved Parliament and deposed the government of Laisenia Qarase. Bainimarama stepped down after the decision, and the judges instructed the country’s President to appoint a caretaker government to lead the country to elections.

However, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo declared he had no constitutional authority to install a new government, so he nullified the country’s constitution, fired the entire judiciary and appointed himself head of state and the military. The following day the President re-appointed Bainimarama and his entire government – giving them a fresh five-year mandate.

Bainimarama’s December 2006 takeover was the country’s fourth coup since 1987. However, Bainimarama promised to rule Fiji differently. Other than fighting corruption and modernizing Fiji’s economy, he pledged to end decades of divisive, ethnic-based politics that often pits political parties aligned with indigenous Fijians against those allied with Indo-Fijians, the descendants of indentured workers brought to the islands by the British colonial rulers in the late-19th and early-20th century.

One group of bloggers has termed the constitutional moves over Easter weekend 2009 as Fiji Coup 4.5. With his new mandate, Bainimarama assured Fiji he would continue his reforms. However, the first days of his new authority has been marred by a series of “public emergency regulations” that have been used to prohibit the press from printing stories “negative in nature” regarding the President’s abrogation of the constitution. Government minders have set up shop in the media offices, making sure broadcasters and publishers adhere to the new rules.

This new atmosphere has commentators inside and outside Fiji wondering: What next for the rule of law?

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