The president (head of state) is appointed for a 5-year term by the Great Council of Chiefs, a traditional ethnic Fijian leadership body. The president in turn appoints the prime minister (head of government) and cabinet from among the members of parliament. Both houses of the legislature have seats reserved by ethnicity. The Senate is appointed; the House of Representatives is elected.
Fiji maintains an independent judiciary consisting of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, a High Court, and magistrate courts. The judiciary remained independent through the coups and the consequent absence of an elected government.
There are four administrative divisions (central, eastern, northern and western), each under the charge of a commissioner. Ethnic Fijians have their own administration in which councils preside over a hierarchy of provinces, districts, and villages. The councils deal with all matters affecting ethnic Fijians. The Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga) contains every hereditary chief, or Ratu, of a Matagali, or Fijian clan.
For 17 years after independence, Fiji was a parliamentary democracy. During that time, political life was dominated by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and the Alliance Party, which combined the traditional Fijian chiefly system with leading elements of the European, part-European, and Indian communities. The main parliamentary opposition, the National Federation Party, represented mainly rural Indo-Fijians. Intercommunal relations were managed without serious confrontation. However, when Dr. Bavadra's coalition democratically installed a cabinet with substantial ethnic Indian representation after the April 1987 election, extremist elements played on ethnic Fijian fears of domination by the Indo-Fijian community. The racial situation took a turn for the worse from which it has yet to fully recover. Three coups, two discarded constitutions, and tens of thousands of outward emigrants have been the result.
One of the main issues of contention is land tenure. Indigenous Fijian communities very closely identify themselves with their land. In 1909 near the peak of the inflow of indentured Indian laborers, the land ownership pattern was frozen and further sales prohibited. Today over 80% of the land is held by indigenous Fijians, under the collective ownership of the traditional Fijian clans. Indo-Fijians produce over 90% of the sugar crop but must lease the land they work from its ethnic Fijian owners instead of being able to buy it outright. The leases have been generally for 10 years, although they are usually renewed for two 10-year extensions. Many Indo-Fijians argue that these terms do not provide them with adequate security and have pressed for renewable 30-year leases, while many ethnic Fijians fear that an Indo-Fijian government would erode their control over the land.
The Indo-Fijian parties' major voting bloc is made up of sugarcane farmers. The farmers' main tool of influence has been their ability to galvanize widespread boycotts of the sugar industry, thereby crippling the economy.
Prior to the 1987 coups, Fiji was often cited as a model of human rights and multiracial democracy. Despite the difficulties that have arisen in the decade and a half since then, Fiji has maintained at least a certain degree of restraint.
conventional long form: Republic of the Fiji Islands
conventional short form: Fiji
Data code: FJ
note: military coup leader Maj. Gen. Sitiveni Rabuka formally declared Fiji a republic on 6 October 1987
Administrative divisions: 4 divisions and 1 dependency*; Central, Eastern, Northern, Rotuma*, Western
Independence: 10 October 1970 (from UK)
National holiday: Independence Day, 10 October (1970)
Constitution: 10 October 1970 (suspended 1 October 1987); a new constitution was proposed on 23 September 1988 and promulgated on 25 July 1990; amended 25 July 1997 to allow nonethnic Fijians greater say in government and to make multiparty government mandatory; entered into force 28 July 1998; note - the May 1999 election was the first test of the amended constitution and introduced open voting - not racially prescribed - for the first time at the national level
Legal system: based on British system
Suffrage: 21 years of age; universal
chief of state: President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (acting president since 15 December 1993, president since 12 January 1994); Vice President Ratu Josefa Iloilo Uluivuda (since 18 January 1999)
head of government: Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry (since 18 May 1999); Deputy Prime Ministers Tupeni Baba (since NA 1999) and Adi Kuini Vuikaba Speed (since NA 1999)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the prime minister from among the members of Parliament and is responsible to Parliament
note: there is also a Presidential Council that advises the president on matters of national importance and a Great Council of Chiefs which consists of the highest ranking members of the traditional chiefly system
elections: president elected by the Great Council of Chiefs for a five-year term; prime minister appointed by the president
election results: Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara elected president; percent of Great Council of Chiefs vote - NA
bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate (32 seats; 14 appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs, nine appointed by the prime minister, eight appointed by the leader of the opposition, and one appointed by the council of Rotuma) and the House of Representatives (71 seats; 23 reserved for ethnic Fijians, 19 reserved for ethnic Indians, three reserved for other ethnic groups, one reserved for the Rotuman constituency encompassing the whole of Fiji, and 25 open; members serve five-year terms)
elections: House of Representatives - last held 11 May 1999 (next to be held NA May 2004)
election results: House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Fiji Labor Party 37, others 34
Judicial branch: Supreme Court, judges are appointed by the president
Political parties and leaders:
Christian Fellowship Party (Veitokani ni Lewenivanua Vakarisito Party) or VLV (primarily Methodist Fijian) [leader NA]; Conservative Party of Fiji or CPF [leader NA]; Fiji Conservative Party or FCP [leader NA]; Fiji Independent Labor (Muslim) [leader NA]; Fiji Indian Congress Party [leader NA]; Fiji Indian Liberal Party [leader NA]; Fiji Labor Party or FLP [Mahendra Chaudhry]; Fijian Association Party or FAP [Adi Kuini SPEED]; Fijian Nationalist Party or FNP [Sakeasi Butadroka]; Fijian Political Party or SVT (primarily Fijian) [Maj. Gen. Sitiveni Rabuka]; Four Corners Party [leader NA]; General Electors' Association [David Pickering]; General Voters Party or GVP [Leo Smith]; National Federation Party or NFP (primarily Indian) [Jai Ram Reddy]; National Unity Party [Apisai Tora]
note: in early 1995, ethnic Fijian members of the All National Congress or ANC merged with the Fijian Association or FA; the remaining members of the ANC have renamed their party the General Electors' Association
International organization participation: ACP, AsDB, C, CCC, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO (subscriber), ITU, OPCW, PCA, Sparteca, SPC, SPF, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNIKOM, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador "Ratu" Napolioni Masirewa
chancery: Suite 240, 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007
telephone:  (202) 337-8320
FAX:  (202) 337-1996
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Osman Siddique
embassy: 31 Loftus Street, Suva
mailing address: P. O. Box 218, Suva
telephone:  314466
FAX:  300081
Flag description: light blue with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and the Fijian shield centered on the outer half of the flag; the shield depicts a yellow lion above a white field quartered by the cross of Saint George featuring stalks of sugarcane, a palm tree, bananas, and a white dove