Fiji. At least eleven people were killed in floods when two hurricanes swept across Fiji in January. About 10,000 people were evacuated after their homes were flooded and state of emergency was declared for large parts of Fiji’s largest islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Large areas of sugar cane were destroyed and the tourism industry was hit hard as well. Fiji received disaster assistance from, among others, Australia and New Zealand.
In January, Pacific Island Forum members (Pacific Islands Forum, PIF) agreed to impose sanctions on Fiji unless the incumbent Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced elections by May 1, 2009. Bainimarama replied that it was not intended to be affected by other countries and that the elections would last, maybe for up to ten years. Earlier, he had said that the elections could not be held until the country’s constitution had been changed to remove the ethnic quotas from politics.
Former Commander-in-Chief Bainimarama took power in a coup in December 2006, which he defended on the need to remove the “corrupt and racist government” led by the elected prime minister, Laisenia Qarase. Bainimarama’s critics, however, accuse him of being a “power hungry dictator”. In 2008, Bainimarama interrupted the dialogue initiated with the PIF to try to restore democracy in Fiji.
At the end of January 2009, the Australian editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times was expelled for criticizing the government. It was the third expulsion within a year of critical journalists.
In April, the Court of Appeal, Fiji’s second highest court, ruled that the military government that took office after the 2006 coup had been appointed in violation of the Constitution. The court decided that an interim prime minister should be appointed to dissolve parliament and call elections, this to restore democracy. The following day, April 10, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, who had been the transitional government after the coup, announced that he had taken over the government. He rescinded the constitution, dismissed all judges and said he would appoint an interim prime minister as well as promised elections in 2014. Assessors said that the ill-fated 88-year-old Iloilo appeared to be ruled by Bainimarama, whom he has always been loyal to. The next day, Iloilo re-elected Bainimarama as prime minister and his transitional government swore in again.
The president’s actions were condemned by the US and Australia, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon demanded the reinstatement of a legitimate government. Now state of emergency was introduced, the military increased its control over society and media censorship was introduced. The media were banned from criticizing the army and threatened to shut down if they did not comply.
The actions of the rulers were criticized by the governments of New Zealand and Australia who threatened with sanctions. The human rights organization Amnesty International also expressed concern about the citizen’s circumcised rights and said that a culture of “extreme fear and fear” was developing in Fiji. According to Amnesty, journalists had received death threats and some reporters were arrested by police. Later, the UN Security Council also condemned the takeover of the military and demanded the restoration of democracy and free elections.
On May 1, Fiji was excluded from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) as no election date had been announced yet. The exclusion meant that the country could no longer receive assistance from the forum and was not allowed to participate in the organization’s meetings.
Bainimarama announced in July that work on writing the Constitution would begin in 2012 and end in 2014, when elections are planned. The aim is to abolish the link between ethnicity and politics. The country’s two large groups of people traditionally vote for candidates from their own ethnic group and the conflicts between the native Fijians and the Fiji Indians, descendants of immigrants from India, have been a major cause of the previous coups in the country. President Iloilo announced in July that he would step down. Awaiting the country’s highest judge to appoint a new president, Iloilo was temporarily replaced by Vice President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, a former army officer who is close to Bainimarama.
In September, Fiji was excluded as a member of the Commonwealth when the military regime refused to conduct elections in 2010, as Bainimarama had previously promised. Shortly afterwards, an envoy from the Commonwealth visited Fiji to try to discuss the return to democracy with the government. At its summit in Trinidad and Tobago in late November, the leader of the Commonwealth appealed to Fiji’s interim government to restore democracy and respect for human rights. On November 3, Bainimarama ordered the ambassadors from Australia and New Zealand to leave Fiji within 24 hours. He also called Fiji’s ambassador to Australia. Bainimarama accused the two neighboring countries of interfering with Fiji’s internal affairs. The brawl was triggered by the entry ban for members of the Bainimarama government that Australia and New Zealand had previously introduced. In November, the Fijian judges dismissed in April would be replaced by Sri Lankan lawyers. But when the Sri Lankans on their way to Fiji stopped in Australia, they were told that they too would be barred from entering Australia and New Zealand if they worked for Fiji’s government.
On November 5, former Vice President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau took office as President. The president would continue to sit for three years, according to Bainimarama. No vice president would be appointed. If necessary, the president would instead be temporarily replaced by the country’s highest judge.
In November, Fiji, along with ten other Pacific Islander nations, demanded that the UN adopt a legally binding agreement at the Copenhagen climate summit in December. The group’s spokesman, Palau’s UN ambassador Stuart Beck, said before the UN General Assembly that only a binding climate agreement can save low-lying countries such as the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu. The disappointment was therefore great among the Pacific countries when it became clear that the climate summit did not lead to a binding UN document signed by all countries. At least three people were killed and about 4,000 were evacuated when a cyclone hit Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, on December 14.