Since gaining independence in 1970, Fiji has had a mixed experience in relation to democracy and democratic consolidation. Democratically elected governments have been overthrown by coup d’états and subsequently new governments reinstated via new constitutions. Fiji’s first constitution was adopted when it gained independence in 1970 which was abrogated after seventeen years through a military coup in 1987.
A new constitution was adopted in 1990, which later was replaced by the Fiji Parliament in 1997 as the former was considered divisive to the fabric of multi-ethnic make-up of Fiji. Another military coup in 2006 led to the abrogation of the 1997 constitution in the year 2009.
In 2013, Fiji adopted a new constitution and the first democratic elections were held in 2014. The most significant feature of the new constitution is the abolition of ethnic-based voting system, which was the key element of the previous constitutions. The inclusion of ethnic-based voting system, to a large extent, was the cause of racial tensions in Fiji. Under the current electoral system, Fiji has a single national constituency comprising of 50 members (will be changed to 51 after the 2018 elections), which means that citizens can vote for any candidate of their choice irrespective of their geographical location. The voting age has been reduced from 21 to 18 and voting is now based on the Open List Proportional Representation (OLPR) system with the principle of ‘one-person, one-vote and one value’.
The 2013 constitution has also moved away from the influence of the traditional chiefs. For the first time, the leverage of the traditional chiefs through the Great Council of Chiefs is totally removed from the power structure, which is an attempt to make Fiji more democratic.
The 2014 elections were the first test of the new system which returned the 2006 coup leader, Frank Bainimarama, back in power via his new political party, FijiFirst. The Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) and National Federation Party (NFP) are the two other parties in Parliament, which occupy the opposition benches in the new Parliament. The last elections were held November 2018.