Fijian electoral system

Fijian electoral system

Historical overview

Fiji's electoral system is the result of complex negotiations, compromises, and experiments conducted over the years leading up to and following independence from British colonial rule in 1970. A number of devices have been tried at various times to accommodate the reality that the primary faultline in Fijian politics is not ideological, but ethnic. The competing political interests of the indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians have defined the political landscape for a generation. There are also small communities of Europeans, Chinese, and other minorities whose economic and political influence is disproportionate to their numbers. wooooo im cool

In colonial times, the British authorities established a Legislative Council with mostly advisory powers, which were gradually extended. European males were enfranchised in 1904 an allocated 7 elective seats in the Legislative Council. Fijians were represented by 2 chiefs chosen by the colonial Governor from a list of 6 nominees submitted by the Great Council of Chiefs. There was initially no representation for Indian immigrants or their descendants, but in 1917 they were granted one seat, filled by a nominee of the Governor. This seat was made elective in 1929, when wealthy Indian males were enfranchised. By 1954, Europeans, Indians, and Fijians were allocated an equal number of seats on the Legislative Council, but the mode of election remained different: universal male suffrage for Europeans and an enfranchised wealthy elite for Indians; indigenous Fijians continued to be represented by nominees of the Great Council of Chiefs, and did not vote directly for their own representatives until the general election of 1966, the last election to be held before independence.

From the early 1960s onwards, the Indo-Fijian dominated National Federation Party began campaigning for universal franchise on a common voters' roll. Leaders of the indigenous Fijian community objected to this proposal, fearful that it would grant effective political control to Indo-Fijians, who then comprised a majority of the country's population. A number of compromises were agreed to in the years that followed, however.

Voting system

Before 1999 the first past the post system of voting was used in all elections. The new constitution agreed to in 1997-1998 established instant run-off voting, known in Fiji as the alternative vote, allowing votes to be transferred from a low-polling candidate to other candidates, according to an order prescribed by the candidate, which may be customized by the elector.

Since its implementation, the voting system has proved controversial, with some politicians claiming that it allows political parties to "fix" election results by making electoral pacts for the transfer of votes - arrangements which supporters of the parties concerned may not be aware of. The result, the detractors claim, is that electors may not know that their chosen candidate or party may have agreed to transfer its votes, if eliminated, to a candidate or party that they would not have supported. Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi is among those who have expressed misgivings about the voting system.


Members of the Fijian House of Representatives are elected from single-member constituencies. Several kinds of constituencies have existed at various times, and at present there are two: communal and open constituencies.

Communal constituencies

Communal constituencies have been the most durable feature of the Fijian electoral system. Before 1966, all elective seats in the Legislative Council were allocated by ethnicity and elected by voters enrolled as members of specific population groups. It avoided direct competition for power along racial lines. Critics pointed out, however, that apportionment was not proportional: even after 1966, ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians, who outnumbered them, were both allocated 9 elective seats, and European and other minorities, who comprised less than ten percent of the population, were allocated 7. Minority representation was reduced from 1972 onwards (3 out of 27 communal constituencies); indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians continued to be represented equally (12 seats each).

The 1990 Constitution of Fiji abolished all non-communal constituencies. The general election of 1992, and a subsequent election in 1995, saw all members of the House of Representatives elected on a strict communal basis.

A constitutional revision in 1997-1998 reduced communal representation to 46 seats out of 71. 23 seats are currently allocated to ethnic Fijians, 19 to Indo-Fijians, 1 to Rotuman Islanders, and 3 to minority groups.

National constituencies

As a compromise between competing demands for universal suffrage (advocated by most Indo-Fijian leaders) and a strict communal franchise (supported by most indigenous Fijian chiefs), 9 "cross-voting" constituencies, later renamed national constituencies, were established for the first time for the 1966 election. The 9 seats were allocated ethnically (with ethnic Fijians, Indo-Fijians, and minorities allocated 3 seats each), but elected by universal adult suffrage. This compromise required candidates to seek support from outside of their own ethnic group, without having to deal with competition from candidates of other races.

An agreement in 1970 led to the expansion of the number of national constituencies to 25 from 1972 onwards. This was almost half of the 52-member House of Representatives. Indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians were allocated 10 national seats each, with minorities taking the remaining 5.

Following two military coups in 1987, the national constituencies were abolished under pressure from Fijian ethno-nationalists, who opposed allowing non-indigenous electors to vote for indigenous Fijian representatives.

Open constituencies

A constitutional revision in 1997-1998 allowed direct electoral competition between candidates of different ethnic groups for the first time. 25 Open constituencies (Fiji) were established, with candidates of all races competing for votes cast on a common voters' roll. In the parliamentary election of 1999, the open constituencies proved to be much more competitive than the communal constituencies, in which ethnic loyalty to particular political parties generally guaranteed predictable results. This trend was even more apparent in the election of 2001.

Chiefly nominees

Before 1966, all Fijian representatives in the Legislative Council were nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs. The chiefs continued to nominate two members to the Legislative Council after 1966, but chiefly representation was abolished in the first post-independence election of 1972. They were compensated, however, with the creation of a Senate, in which 8 out of 22 Senators were nominated by the chiefs. This figure was increased to 24 out of 34 in 1992, but reduced to 14 out of 32 in 1999.

Official members

From 1904 to 1966, a majority in the Legislative Council were appointed by the colonial Governor. Seats held by these nominees, known as official members, were abolished that yearSpecify|date=December 2006.

Proposal for "one man, one vote"

Current "interim leader" Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who overthrew the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase in a military coup in December 2006, has blamed Fiji's "communal voting" system for ethnic tensions and a lack of a strong feeling of shared national identity and citizenship. Bainimarama has stated that he would favour abolishing the communal voting system, in favour of a "one man, one vote" "common roll" system with no ethnic distinctions between voters. [ [ "Equality within ‘common roll’ for Fiji"] , Radio Fiji, December 1, 2007] Originally opposed to the idea, Qarase later voiced tentative support. Qarase said he supported the idea in principle, but added: " [W] e are a very young democracy and I think if we move now to one man, one vote system it will be far too fast and far too early." [ [ "Timing out for change in Fiji’s voting system"] , Radio Fiji, January 14, 2008] Instead, Qarase suggested a new system of proportional representation, in which each ethnic community would be represented in Parliament in proportion to its numbers within the population. [ [ "Represent all in Fiji’s voting system"] , Radio Fiji, January 14, 2008] This would confer a majority in Parliament to indigenous Fijians.


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