1987 Fijian coups d'état

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The Fijian coups of 1987 resulted in the overthrow of the elected government of Fijian Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra, the deposition of Elizabeth II as Queen of Fiji, and in the declaration of a republic. The first coup, in which Bavadra was deposed, took place on 14 May 1987; a second coup on 28 September ended the monarchy, and was shortly followed by the proclamation of a republic on 7 October. Both military actions were led by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, then third in command of the Royal Fiji Military Forces. Depending on perspective, one may view the event either as two successive coups d'état separated by a four-month intermission, or as a single coup begun on 14 May and completed with the declaration of the republic.

Timoci Uluivuda Bavadra was a Fijian medical doctor who founded the Fiji Labour Party and served as the Prime Minister of Fiji for one month in 1987.

Elizabeth II Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms

Elizabeth II is Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms.

Monarchy of Fiji

The monarchy of Fiji arose in the mid-nineteenth century when native ruler Seru Epenisa Cakobau consolidated control of the Fijian Islands and declared himself King or paramount chief of Fiji. In 1874, he voluntarily ceded sovereignty of the islands to Britain, which made Fiji a Crown colony within the British Empire. After nearly a century of British rule, Fiji became a Dominion, an independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth of Nations with Elizabeth II as head of state. After a second military coup in 1987, Fiji became a republic, and the monarchy was ended. Nevertheless, the Great Council of Chiefs recognised Elizabeth II as Tui Viti or the traditional Queen of Fiji, but the position is not one of a constitutional, or otherwise legal nature. The Great Council of Chiefs was disestablished in 2012 by decree. Elizabeth II does not use the title, and the Fijian government does not recognise it.



Both before and after Fiji gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1970, tensions between the indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian ethnic groups (comprising an estimated 46% and 49% of the 1987 population, respectively) continually manifested themselves in social and political unrest. [1] The Fijian general election of April 1987 resulted in the replacement of the indigenous-led conservative government of Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara with a multi-ethnic Labour-led coalition supported mostly by the Indo-Fijian plurality and Rabuka claimed ethnic Fijian concerns of racial discrimination as his excuse for seizing power. Many authorities doubt the veracity of this, however, given existing constitutional guarantees. [2]

Fijians are a nation and ethnic group native to Fiji, who speak Fijian and share a common history and culture.

Kamisese Mara President of Fiji

Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, CF, GCMG, KBE is considered the founding father of the modern nation of Fiji. He was Chief Minister from 1967 to 1970, when Fiji gained its independence from the United Kingdom, and, apart from one brief interruption in 1987, the first Prime Minister from 1970 to 1992. He subsequently served as president from 1993 to 2000.

Fiji Labour Party political party

The Fiji Labour Party (FLP) is a political party in Fiji. Most of its support is from the Indo-Fijian community, although it is officially multiracial and its first leader was an indigenous Fijian, Dr. Timoci Bavadra. The party has been elected to power twice, with Timoci Bavadra and Mahendra Chaudhry becoming prime minister in 1987 and 1999 respectively. On both occasions, the resulting government was rapidly overthrown by a coup.

Coups d'etat

May coup

On the morning of 14 May, around 10 am, a section of ten masked, armed soldiers entered the Fijian House of Representatives and subdued the national legislature, which had gathered there for its morning session. Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, dressed in civilian clothes, approached Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra from his position in the public gallery and ordered the members of parliament to leave the building. They did so without resisting. The coup was an apparent success, and had been accomplished without loss of life.

House of Representatives of Fiji former lower house of Fiji; abolished in 2003

The House of Representatives was the lower chamber of Fiji's Parliament from 1970 to 2006. It was the more powerful of the two chambers; it alone had the power to initiate legislation. The House of Representatives also had much greater jurisdiction over financial bills; the Senate could not amend them, although it might veto them. Except in the case of amendments to the Constitution, over which a veto of the Senate was absolute, the House of Representatives might override a Senatorial veto by passing the same bill a second time, in the parliamentary session immediately following the one in which it was rejected by the Senate, after a minimum period of six months.

Sitiveni Rabuka Prime Minister of Fiji

Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka, OBE, MSD, OStJ, is best known as the instigator of two military coups that shook Fiji in 1987. He was later democratically elected as Prime Minister of Fiji, serving from 1992 to 1999. He went on to serve as Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, and later served as Chairman of the Cakaudrove Provincial Council from 2001 to 2008. He was elected to this position on 24 May 2001 and re-elected for another three-year term on 13 April 2005. On 24 June 2016, Rabuka was elected as leader of the Social Democratic Liberal Party, succeeding Leader of the Opposition Ro Teimumu Kepa, who publicly disapproved of Rabuka's nomination to replace her. On 26 November 2018, Rabuka was appointed as the leader of the Opposition to Parliament, following the 2018 election defeat. Rabuka was the only nomination for the position and his nomination was moved by Ro Teimumu Kepa and seconded by Biman Prasad.

At around 11 am, Radio Fiji announced the news of the military takeover. Rabuka was reported to have gone to Government House to see the Governor-General. He was seeking recognition of the military action and the overthrow of the Bavadra government. A caretaker government was to be named shortly, and the public was urged to "remain calm and continue with their daily work." [3] At the meeting, the Governor-General (who was Rabuka's paramount chief) gave a mild rebuke to Rabuka. He asked him "What have you done?" and "You mean I have no job?" He added that Rabuka should have given the deposed government more time. The meeting ended with the Governor-General stating "Good luck, I hope you know what you are doing." [3]

Following the coup, the Governor-General commissioned a Constitution Review Committee, led by Sir John Falvey to look at the "deficiencies" of Fiji's 1970 constitution. The review of the constitution was stacked with individuals who supported the coup.[ citation needed ]

Sir John Neil Falvey, K.B.E., Q.C. was a New Zealand-born lawyer, who served as Attorney General of Fiji from 1970 to 1977. Previously, he had served as legal adviser to the Fijian Affairs Board.

The commission was to begin hearings on 6 July, and deliver its recommendations to the Governor General by 31 July. Its terms of reference were to "strengthen the representation of indigenous Fijians, and in so doing bear in mind the best interests of other peoples in Fiji." [4] The Commission received 860 written and 120 oral submissions, and produced a report recommending a new unicameral legislature comprising 36 Fijians (28 elected and 8 appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs), 22 Indo-Fijians, 8 General electors, 1 Rotuman, and up to four nominees of the Prime Minister. National constituencies, ethnically allocated and elected by universal suffrage, were to be abolished, and all voting was to be communal. The Prime Minister's post was to be reserved for an indigenous Fijian. [5] [6]

Great Council of Chiefs

The Great Council of Chiefs(Bose Levu Vakaturaga in Fijian, ग्रेट काउंसिल ऑफ चीफ्स in Fiji Hindi) was a constitutional body in the Republic of the Fiji Islands from 1876 to March 2012. In April 2007 the council was suspended, due to an unworkable relationship with Frank Bainimarama, leader of an "interim government" which came to power through military coup in December 2006. It was formally disestablished by decree in March 2012.

"General Electors" is the term formerly used in Fiji to identify citizens of voting age who belonged, in most cases, to ethnic minorities. The 1997 Constitution defined General Electors as all Fiji citizens who were not registered as being of Fijian, Indian, or Rotuman descent. Also included were citizens who did qualify to be registered in the above categories, but who chose not to be. Persons of biracial or multiracial ancestry could opt to enroll either as General Electors, or as descendants of any of the other three groups to which they had an ancestral claim. General Electors were thus a diverse electorate, whose members included Europeans, Chinese, Banaban Islanders, and many smaller groups. They were allocated 3 seats in the House of Representatives, the lower and more influential house of the Fijian Parliament.

The Rotumans are the indigenous inhabitants of Rotuma, a small island group forming part of the Republic of Fiji. The island itself is a cultural melting pot at the crossroads of the Micronesian, Melanesian and Polynesian divisions of the Pacific Ocean, and due to the seafaring nature of traditional Pacific cultures, the indigenous Rotuman have adopted or share many aspects of its multifaceted culture with its Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian neighbours.

The Governor-General dissolved parliament and granted amnesty to Rabuka, while promoting him to the position of commander of the Royal Fiji Military Forces. The actions of the Governor-General were viewed with suspicion by the deposed government and Bavadra challenged Ratu Sir Penaia's decision in the Supreme Court of Fiji. [3]

September coup

From independence in 1970, Fiji's head of state was the Queen of Fiji, Elizabeth II. The Fijian Supreme Court ruled the coup unconstitutional, and the Governor-General attempted to assert executive power. He opened negotiations known as the Deuba Talks with both the deposed government and the Alliance Party, which most indigenous Fijians supported. These negotiations culminated in the Deuba Accord of 23 September 1987, which provided for a government of national unity, in which both parties would be represented under the leadership of the Governor-General. Fearing that the gains of the first coup were about to be lost, Rabuka staged a second coup on 25 September. [7] Rabuka then declared Fiji a republic on 7 October 1987, abrogating the Constitution of Fiji and stating that he had removed the Governor-General from office, [7] and declaring himself Head of the Interim Military Government. Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau resigned as Governor-General on 15 October, [8] although he was made the first President of Fiji on 6 December 1987. [8]

International involvement

Australia and New Zealand, the two nations with foremost political influence in the region, were somewhat disquieted by the event, but ultimately took no action to intervene. They did, however, establish a policy of non-recognition regarding the new government, suspending foreign aid in concert with the United States and the United Kingdom.

The Australian labour movement, taking the ousting of a Labor Party-led government as an affront to the worldwide labour movement, instituted an embargo against shipments to Fiji. As Australia was Fiji's largest foreign trading partner, this resulted in a large diminution in Fiji's international trade.


The United Nations immediately denounced the coup, demanding that the former government be restored. On 7 October the new regime declared Fiji a republic, revoking the 1970 constitution; the Commonwealth responded with Fiji's immediate expulsion from the association.

A new constitution was ratified in 1990, in which the offices of President and Prime Minister, along with two-thirds of the Senate, a substantial majority of the House of Representatives were reserved for indigenous Fijians. These discriminatory provisions were eventually overturned by a constitutional revision in 1997.

The coups triggered much emigration by Indo-Fijians (particularly skilled workers), [9] making them a minority by 1994. Today, however, though Fiji struggles economically, the country has been able to slowly recover from this loss of necessary skills.

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  1. Knapman 1990, p. 60.
  2. Knapman 1990, p. 75.
  3. 1 2 3 Brij V. Lal. "In the Eye of the Storm: Jai Ram Reddy and the Politics of Postcolonial Fiji" (PDF).
  4. Lal, Brij V. "In the Eye of the Storm: Jai Ram Reddy and the Politics of Postcolonial Fiji". Google Books. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  5. Miller, Laurel E.; Aucoin, Louis. "Framing the State in Times of Transition: Case Studies in Constitution Making". Google Books. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  6. "The 1990 Constitution" (PDF). Fiji Leaks. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  7. 1 2 "Fiji coup leader declares republic". New York Times. 7 October 1987. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  8. 1 2 "Fiji Politics 1987 Coup - 14 May". Global Security. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  9. Knapman 1990, p. 74.

Further reading