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By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 2, 2003, 19:57
The Republic of the Fiji Islands occupies an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Vanuatu, west of Tonga and south of Tuvalu.
The first inhabitants of Fiji arrived from South East Asia long before the islands were discovered by European explorers in the 17th century. It was not until the 19th century, however, that Europeans came to the islands to settle there permanently. The islands came under British control as a colony in 1874. It was granted independence in 1970. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987, caused by concern over a government perceived as dominated by the Indo-Fijian (Indian) community.
A 1990 constitution guaranteed ethnic Fijian control of Fiji, but led to heavy Indian emigration; the population loss resulted in economic difficulties, but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. Amendments enacted in 1997 made the constitution more equitable. Free and peaceful elections in 1999 resulted in a government led by an Indo-Fijian. A year later, this was deposed in a coup led by George Speight, a hardline Fijian nationalist. Democracy was restored towards the end of 2000, and Laisenia Qarase, who had led an interim government in the meantime, was elected Prime Minister.
For a country of its size, Fiji has exceptionally capable armed forces, and has been a major contributor to UN peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world.
Fiji's Head of State is the President, who is elected by the Great Council of Chiefs for a five-year term. Although his role is largely an honorary one, modelled after that of the British monarchy, the President has certain "reserve powers" that may be used only in the event of a national crisis. He is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
The president formally appoints the Prime Minister, who must be able to rely on the support of a majority in the House of Representatives. In practice, that means that the leader of the largest political party or coalition normally becomes Prime Minister, rendering the President's role in the appointment little more than a formality. Sometimes, however, Parliament may become deadlocked, as a result of electoral fragmentation or party splits. In such cases, the President takes on the role of arbitrator, and after consulting with all the political factions, must appoint as Prime Minister the person he judges to be the most acceptable to the majority in the House of Representatives. On the Prime Minister's nomination, the President formally appoints a Cabinet of around ten to twenty five ministers, who exercise executive authority. According to the constitution, the Cabinet is supposed to reflect the political composition of the House of Representatives, with every party holding more than 8 seats in the House entitled to proportionate representation in the Cabinet. In practice, this rule has never been strictly implemented.
Fiji's Parliament is bicameral. The House of Representatives has 71 members. 25 of these are elected by universal suffrage. The remaining 46 are reserved for Fiji's ethnic communities and are elected from communal electoral rolls: 23 Fijians, 19 Indo-Fijians, 1 Rotuman, and 3 "General electors" (Europeans, Chinese, and other minorities). The upper chamber of the parliament, the Senate, has 32 members, formally appointed by the President on the nomination of the Great Council of Chiefs (14), the Prime Minister (9), the Leader of the Opposition (8), and the Rotuman Islands Council (1). The Senate is less powerful than the House of Representatives; the Senate may not initiate legislation, but it may reject or amend it.
Fiji is divided into three parts, called divisions:
Fiji consists of 322 islands, of which about one third is inhabited. The two most important islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Viti Levu hosts the capital city of Suva, and is home to nearly three quarters of the population. The islands are mountainous, with peaks up to 1200 m, and covered with tropical forests. Other important towns include Labasa, Lautoka, Nadi, and Savusavu.
Fiji, endowed with forest, mineral, and fish resources, is one of the most developed of the Pacific island economies, though still with a large subsistence sector. Sugar exports and a growing tourist industry - with 300,000 to 400,000 tourists annually - are the major sources of foreign exchange. Sugar processing makes up one-third of industrial activity. Long-term problems include low investment and uncertain property rights. The political turmoil in Fiji has had a severe impact on the economy, which shrank by 2.8% in 2000 and grew by only 1% in 2001. The tourism sector recovered quickly, however, with visitor arrivals reaching pre-coup levels again during 2002, which has since resulted in a modest economic recovery. The government's ability to manage its budget - which ran a net deficit of 6% in 2002 - is dependent on a return of political stability and investor confidence.
The only major skyscraper in all of Fiji is the 14-story Reserve Bank of Fiji Building in Suva.
The population of Fiji is divided almost equally between native Fijians, a people of mixed Polynesian and Melanesian ancestory (51%), and Indo-Fijians (43.7%), descendent of Indian contract laborers brought to the islands by the British in the 19th century. About 1.2 percent are Rotuman - natives of Rotuma Island, whose culture has more in common with countries such as Tonga or Samoa than with the rest of Fiji. There are also small, but economically significant, groups of Europeans, Chinese, and other minorities. Relationships between ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians have often been strained, and the tension between the two communities has dominated politics in the islands for the past generation.
Three official languages are prescribed by the constitution: English, which was introduced by the former British colonial rulers, Bau Fijian, spoken by ethnic Fijians, and Hindustani, the main language spoken by Indo-Fijians. Citizens of Fiji have the constitutional right to communicate with any government agency in any of the official languages, with an interpreter to be supplied on request.
The use of English is one of the most enduring legacies of almost a century of British rule. Widely spoken by both ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians, English is the main medium of communication between the two communities, as well as with the outside world. It is the language in which the government conducts most of its business, and is the main language of education, commerce, and the courts.
Fijian belongs to the Austronesian family of languages. Although it has been influenced by prolonged contact with speakers of Polynesian languages such as Tongan, it is related more closely to the Melanesian branch of the Austronesian family, which includes languages of western Pacific nations such as Vanuatu and New Caledonia. There are many dialects, but the official standard is the speech of Bau, the most politically and militarily powerful of the many indigenous kingdoms of the 19th Century.
"Hindustani" is considered an umbrella term for Hindi (preferred by Hindus) and the closely related Urdu (preferred by Muslims). Many Indo-Fijians consider that Fijian Hindustani has developed some unique features that differentiate it from the Hindi and Urdu spoken on the Indian subcontinent, although not to the extent of hindering mutual understanding.
In addition to the three official languages, many other languages are spoken. Some Fijian dialects, especially in the west of the country, differ markedly from the official Bau standard, and would probably be considered separate languages if they had a codified grammar or a literary tradition. In addition to Hindustani, many Indo-Fijians speak Tamil, with smaller communities speaking Bihari, Bengali, and other languages. On the island of Rotuma, Rotuman, a Polynesian language, is used.
Most ethnic Fijians are Christians. The Methodist church is the largest denomination; with about a quarter of the total population (including about 48 percent of ethnic Fijians), it has a higher percentage of the population in Fiji than in any other country. Other significant denominations among ethnic Fijians include Roman Catholics (19 percent), the Assemblies of God (11 percent), and the Seventh Day Adventists (6 percent). About thirty smaller denominations are also represented, including Lutherans and Anglicans. Most of these churches also have Indo-Fijian members, but their numbers are quite small. A small number of ethnic Fijians have converted to Islam; one of the most prominent if these is the well-known politician Apisai Tora.
Most Indo-Fijians are Hindu (75 percent) or Muslim (16 percent). About 6 percent are Christians (mostly Methodists and Assemblies of God), and 1 percent are Sikhs. About two percent profess no religion.
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