Constitution of Fiji

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Contents

Background

The Constitution of the Republic of the Fiji Islands dates from 1997. It is Fiji's third Constitution. The first, adopted in 1970 upon independence, was abrogated following two military coups in 1987. A second constitution was adopted in 1990. Its discriminatory provisions, which reserved the office of Prime Minister and a built-in majority in the House of Representatives for indigenous Fijians (although they were at that time a minority of the population) proved very unpopular with the Indo-Fijian community, which comprised almost half the country's population, and in the mid 1990s the government agreed that it should be rewritten.

The constitutional process

In 1995, President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara appointed a three-member Constitutional Review Commission. The commissioners were Tomasi Vakatora, an ethnic Fijian, and Brij Lal, an Indo-Fijian, with Sir Paul Reeves, a former Governor-General of New Zealand, as chairman. Fourteen months of consultations followed. The Commission finally presented its report, containing 697 recommendations, to the President on 6 September 1996. The report was subsequently tabled in Parliament, at a joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, on September 11. A parliamentary committee, composed of members of both chambers, was established to study the report.

Eight months later, the committee tabled its response in Parliament on 14 May 1997, endorsing most of the recommendations. The Great Council of Chiefs, a powerful gathering of mainly high chiefs which, among other prerogatives, elects the President of Fiji, also endorsed the report in June. The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 1997 was passed by the House of Representatives on 3 July that year, and by the Senate on 10 July. President Mara signed it into law on 25 July 1997. It took effect from 27 July. Under its provisions, ethnic Fijians agreed to give up their guaranteed majority in the House of Representatives and their monopoly on the Prime Minister's office, but in return, their ownership of most of the land was written into the constitution. Their rights were also protected by institutionalizing of the Great Council of Chiefs, which retained its power to elect the President and 14 of the 32 Senators. Template:Politics of Fiji

The 2000 coup

The present constitution was abrogated by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who organized a counter-coup to neutralize a civilian coup d'état led by George Speight, and subsequently formed an Interim Military Government. A Supreme Court decision in November, however, reinstated the constitution, and new parliamentary elections under it were held in September 2001.

The document

The Fijian Constitution comprises seventeen chapters. The links in the index on the right are to articles summarizing their contents, along with the interpretation and the historical background, including reasons for their provision. Ongoing controversies are also noted.


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