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Fiji coups of 1987
Fiji Coups of 1987 refers to a chain of events which began with the overthrow of the elected government of Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra on 14 May 1987, and culminated in the severing of links with the British Monarchy and the proclamation of a republic on 7 October, following a second putsch on 28 September. 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'etat separated by a four-month intermission, or as a single coup begun on May 14 and completed with the declaration of a republic.
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. Parliamentary elections in April of 1987 resulted in the replacement of the indigenous-led government of Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara with a multi-ethnic coalition supported mostly by the Indo-Fijian majority, 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.
On the morning of May 14, a squad of ten masked, armed soldiers entered the Fijian House of Representatives and subdued the national legislature, which had gathered there for its morning session. 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.
The matter was not settled there, however. As a Commonwealth Realm, Fiji's Head of State was the British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The Fijian Supreme Court ruled the coup unconstitutional, and the Queen's representative, Governor General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, unsuccessfully attempted to assert executive power. Rabuka finally staged a second coup on September 28 to consolidate the gains of the first coup.
The theory has been put forth that the United States, worried for the future of nuclear testing in the Pacific, had the Central Intelligence Agency orchestrate the revolt against Bavadra, an outspoken opponent of nuclear proliferation. No evidence has been presented to substantiate this theory, however, and it has little support among educated commentators.
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 United Nations immediately denounced the coup, demanding that the former government be restored. On October 10 the new regime declared Fiji a republic, revoking the 1970 constitution; the Commonwealth of Nations responded with Fiji's immediate expulsion from the union.
A new constitution was ratified in 1990, establishing a policy often compared to apartheid: the offices of President and Prime Minister, along with two-thirds of the Senate, a substantial majority of the House of Representatives, and no fewer than 50% the judiciary, were reserved for ethnic Fijians. These discriminatory provisions were eventually overturned by a constitutional revision in 1997, but only after thousands of skilled Indo-Fijians, the backbone of the nation's workforce, had emigrated, making them a minority by 1994. Even today, Fiji still struggles to recover from a over a decade of economic distress.
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