Fiji in the 1990’s

Population

According to a United Nations estimate, in 1998 the population reached 796. 000 residents (it was 772,655 at the 1996 census), thus confirming the slow decline in population growth rates. In fact, the difference between the birth rate (still over 20% in the mid-1990s) and the mortality rate (which dropped to around 5%).‰) is significant and would lead to a higher increase; but this did not happen due to the considerable emigration flow that affects the Indian community and which became more pronounced in the early nineties, as a consequence of the new political order that has definitely favored the Melanesian community. Moreover, these privileges have been partially attenuated with a project of constitutional reform (see below: History).

The two communities, which had achieved substantial numerical parity in the 1980s, were 50 % (Melanesians) and 44 % (Indians) respectively in the middle of the following decade. The decrease in the number of Indians is mainly due to emigration, but partly also to the lower birth rate, in accordance with their better socio-economic conditions. The rest of the population is of Chinese or European descent.

The population considered urban in 1995 amounted to 41 %; but the only real city is the capital, Suva, which, in addition to carrying out the traditional port and commercial functions, has come to assume a notable political-cultural role due to the fact that it is the headquarters of South Pacific University, an institution that it affects many countries of Oceania.

Economic conditions

The Fijian economy, still largely based on agriculture, and in particular on cane cultivation, was negatively affected by the loosening of relations with Western countries which occurred after independence. The stagnation of sugar production (4. 500. 000 q in 1997), linked to the vicissitudes of the international market, as well as the loss of consistency and power of the Indian community, and the difficulty of increasing other primary products business (coconut, timber, fish, precious) have prompted the government to move towards industrial cooperation with capitalist countries (especially Japan) and especially towards tourism (340. 900 visitors in 1996). The development of the latter, however, encounters difficulties due to the great distance that separates the country from many of the major areas of supply of tourist flows, as well as to the unsatisfactory situation of internal connections (about which the unsatisfactory location of the international airport in Nadi, very far from the capital).

Politics

The contrast between the indigenous population, belonging to the Melanesian group, and the Indian community continued to characterize the political events of the country, undermining its internal stability. One of the major obstacles to the solution of the conflict remained the firm opposition of Fijian nationalists (expression of the landed aristocracy and the upper middle class) to accept a limitation of their political prerogatives, established at the time of independence (1970) and further increased after the coup of General Sitiveni Rabuka (1987) and the promulgation of a new constitutional text approved in 1990. The accentuation of the discriminatory policy provoked the exodus of thousands of Indians (in particular technicians and skilled workers) and the reaction of the international community, heavily damaging the country’s economy.

The elections of May 1992 sanctioned the victory of the new party of the regime, the Fijian political party (born in 1990), which obtained 30 seats, compared to the 14 of the National Federative Party (expression mainly of Indian ethnicity, of progressive orientation) and of the 13 of the Fijian Labor Party (multiracial, social democratic). Rabuka assumed the leadership of the government while Ratu Mara, following the death of Ratu Galinau (December 1993), was appointed president of the Republic (January 1994). Consultations held in February 1994they substantially confirmed the existing equilibrium and the dominance of Fijian nationalists, against whose resistance Rabuka’s attempt at ethnic reconciliation stalled in 1996. The latter, however, also to break the diplomatic isolation that had serious economic consequences for the country (following the 1987 coup d’état, the Fijis were expelled from the Commonwealth), promoted a constitutional reform that would put an end to discrimination against the Indian population and to lay the foundations for achieving multi-ethnic political representation.

According to PARADISDACHAT, the new text of the Constitution, approved by Parliament in July 1997 and entered into force in July 1998, brought the total number of seats in the elective chamber to 71, providing for a reduction in the quota allocated on the basis of ethnicity (these seats increased from 65 to 46, of which 23 were reserved for Fijians, 19 for Indians, 3 for minority ethnic groups, 1 for Rotuma Island voters, while the remaining 25 were open to all ethnic groups), a downsizing of the power of the indigenous aristocracy, which was reserved for the election of 15senators against the 24 provided for by the previous Constitution, as well as the elimination of the clause that allowed only Fijians to assume the office of prime minister.

Following the approval of the new Constitution, the Fiji were readmitted to the Commonwealth (August 1997). However, the resistance of the Fijian nationalists prevented, in the following months, the formation of a multiethnic government, proposed by Rabuka. In February 1998 the commercial relations between the Fiji and India resumed, following the lifting by the latter of the embargo decreed in 1987. The political elections of May 1999 marked the defeat of the Fijian Political Party (8 seats) and the victory of the Fijian Labor Party (37 seats) whose leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, was appointed prime minister.

Fiji in the 1990's

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