Nationalism versus constitutionalism in Fiji

Stephanie Lawson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Since Fiji became an independent state in 1970 it has experienced three coups against elected governments. On each occasion, intervention has been justified on the grounds that the rights and interests of indigenous Fijians have been under threat from a government controlled by Indo-Fijians, the country's second largest ethnic group. This is despite the fact that the constitutions under which these governments were elected contained extensive provisions for the protection of indigenous rights and interests precisely to meet such concerns. Since the coup of May 2000, the 1997 constitution has been resurrected through the legal process and fresh elections held. Although this represented a formal victory for the forces of constitutionalism, the election itself resulted in the return to office of the post-coup interim administration that had been appointed by the military and which had pledged to uphold the primacy of Fijian interests against other claims. The story of nationalism versus constitutionalism in Fiji is one in which all the efforts of institutional designers seem to have been consistently trumped by the successful manipulation of ethnic identity, especially (although not exclusively) by Fijian nationalists. But it also suggests that there is more to the problems of stability in Fiji than the fact of ethnic difference. In addition, the article critically assesses arguments which favour the development of a new form of constitutionalism which dispenses with the liberal 'rule of uniformity' in favour of principles and practices that give explicit recognition to cultural difference.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-538
Number of pages20
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes


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