Fijian military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama led a successful coup in 2006, ousting and replacing the then Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase. The effects of this military coup are rippling through the South Pacific region even today.
When the Fiji High Court declared Commodore Bainimarama’s government illegal in April 2009, Fiji’s president, Josefa Iloilo, who was brought to power by Bainimarama in 2006, forsook the Fijian constitution, fired the judiciary and reappointed Bainimarama as Prime Minister until 2014. In July 2009, Iloilo retired from his position and on November 4, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau was sworn in as the nation’s new president.
President Nailatikau, a former military commander, diplomat and UN representative who vigilantly battles to curtail the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Fiji, has brought a ray of hope and a stabilizing effect to the nation’s political arena. At his inauguration, Nailatikau spoke of the nation’s need for unity, love and hope.
Nearby nations Australia and New Zealand have imposed a series of sanctions on the Republic of Fiji in order to encourage the nation to stabilize its political situation. New Zealand’s particular sanction that bans anyone in the Fiji military from traveling outside of the country was met with a sign of non-cooperation from Fiji’s interim government. In November 2009, Commodore Bainimarama, who is still the country’s prime minister, ordered top New Zealand and Australian diplomats to be evicted from Fjiian soil.
Political turmoil of any kind invariably hurts the economy of a nation, particularly by affecting its tourism industry. Fiji’s tourism industry is a crucial lifeline for the country’s economy, generating 100s of millions of dollars every year in revenue, an amount which exceeds the revenue generated from Fiji’s two largest exports, sugar and garments.
The 2006 military coup, the political unrest that has subsequently followed, combined with Fiji’s tremendous trade deficit and a cyclone that ravaged the island of Vanua Levu in 2003 (which caused damages that amount to 30 million USD) have contributed to an undeniable economic crisis in the Republic of Fiji. In 2009, the Fijian dollar was devalued by 20%. IMF, World Bank and major world leaders, such as Australia, New Zealand and the European Union are all working hand-in-hand to ensure that Fiji’s economy stabilizes.
Visitors to Fiji are a crucial component of any attempts to rebuild Fiji’s economy. They keep tourism alive and they invest money in commercial and private real estate ventures (thereby creating revenue and jobs for Fijian locals). Recognizing the need to maintain a vibrant tourism economy, the interim Fiji government announced in 2009 that the next budget would include a very large increase in its advertising grant for tourism.
Potential visitors to Fiji can keep abreast of any significant travel warnings (due to weather conditions and local political unrest) by logging into their state department’s website and viewing its travel advisory warnings.