Casting a Blind-Eye: Is Fiji’s 2013 ‘Ethnically-Blind’ Constitution a Path to Democratic Stability?

Journal of South Pacific Law, Special Issue, 3-36, 2017

34 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2018

See all articles by Romitesh Kant

Romitesh Kant

The University of the South Pacific, Suva

Date Written: December 1, 2017

Abstract

Fiji has a checkered history with democracy. Since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1970, its politics have been marked by a pattern of coups and constitutional reform. After the first military coup in 1987, three constitutions designed by political elites have attempted to resolve ethnic tensions and foster democratic stability. Underlying Fiji's constitutional reforms is a struggle for supremacy between two very different conceptions of the nation, namely ethnic and civic. While the 1970 and 1997 Constitutions sought a form of multicultural compromise with the realities of Fiji's demographic make-up, demands for continued ethno-political paramountcy by sections of the indigenous Fijian (iTaukei) population led to the overthrow of the democratically-elected governments in 1987 and 2000. In fact, the 1990 Constitution institutionalized the privileged ethno-political status of indigenous Fijians. Subsequently, the coup of 2006 ushered in a period of political reform that has sought to promote a more civic and 'ethnically blind' set of constitutional arrangements. This article investigates the potential for democratic stability provided by the 2013 Constitution. It argues that while the 2013 Constitution and its provisions do shift the discourse away from previous preoccupations with race and ethnicity, the context of the constitution-making process also indicates that the Bainimarama regime was largely intent on maintaining the status quo.

Keywords: Constitutional Reform; Fiji Politics; Democracy; Militarization; Ethnicity; Democratic Stability

Suggested Citation

Kant, Romitesh, Casting a Blind-Eye: Is Fiji’s 2013 ‘Ethnically-Blind’ Constitution a Path to Democratic Stability? (December 1, 2017). Journal of South Pacific Law, Special Issue, 3-36, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3229563

Romitesh Kant (Contact Author)

The University of the South Pacific, Suva ( email )

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