Fiji Coups Of 1987

  • In the news

  • When bravery is not enough
    Fiji Times, Fiji -
    ... out the high precision military coup in 1987 and got ... With two coups to prove that the argument may be ... House two weeks ago for giving Fiji Television company an ...
  • Call it 'Operation Vijay Freedom'
    Arizona Republic, AZ -
    ... We learned from the CIA's Web site that there have been two coups in Fiji since 1987, and if the CIA says something, well, it must be true. ...
  • Book talks of ethnic crime
    Fiji Times, Fiji -
    ... 1970s onwards, young ethnic Fijian males had predominated Fiji's prison population. ... said those who perpetrated the first military coups of 1987 against the ...
  • Cost of coups on tourism
    Fiji Times, Fiji -
    ... Incomes and the standard of living of ordinary Fiji citizens (of all races) would have been higher and poverty would ... Of course, the coups of 1987 and 2000 ...
  • Ethinc tensions and the law
    Fiji Times, Fiji -
    ... Yet, ironically I believe that inter-ethnic relations in Fiji have also never been better. ... Second, the coups of 1987 and the attempted coup of 2000 ...
Fiji Coups of 1987 refers to the 1987 overthrow of the government of Fiji 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 Rabuka's final assertion of control on September 28.


Since gaining 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) have continually manifested themselves in social and political unrest. Democratic elections in April of 1987 resulted in the replacement of the Fijian-dominated national leadership 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 protections; indeed, legislation enacted by new administration limiting the rights of ethnic Indians resulted a substantial Indo-Fijian exodus, and the group was a minority by 1994.

Coups D'etat

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 gained full control on September 28 in a so-called "second coup".

International Involvement

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 no support among educated commentators.

Australia and New Zealand, the two nations with foremost political influence in the region, were somewhat disquited over 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 along 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 revisision in 1997, but not before the emigration of thousands of skilled Indo-Fijians, the backbone of the nation's workforce. Even today, Fiji still struggles to recover from a over a decade of economic distress.

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