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Sugar and Democracy in Fiji: the Material Foundations of Post-Colonial Authoritarianism 1970-2005

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posted on 2021-11-09, 19:51 authored by Barbalich, Keiran

Fiji became independent in 1970, and functioned for 17 years under a constitution with democratic elements, including elections. Three times since 1987, however, armed force has overthrown constitutionally elected governments. Some observers see this as a failure of the consolidation of Fijian democracy, while others acknowledge the facade of Fijian democracy. Among those who acknowledge Fiji's authoritarian institutions, conflict persists as to whether authoritarianism is the inevitable product of ethnic conflict in Fijian society, or a consequence of post-colonial institutional legacies. No movement toward democracy in Fiji is likely to succeed until we understand the material foundations underlying Fiji's authoritarian politics. This thesis argues that Fiji' authoritarian political institutions, established under colonial rule, have been sustained since independence by forces in the international economy. These forces have helped to maintain the economic, social and political dominance of a Pacific-Fijian chiefly elite over Fijian society. Specially, chiefly control of the sugar industry, Fiji's principal export, has provided chiefs with sufficient patronage resources to retain their control over Fijian society through electoral politics or, at the event of undesirable electoral outcomes, through armed opposition. Through post-colonial structures, the chiefs control the land-tenure system, and through their setting and receipt of land rents, they have been the principal beneficiaries of Fiji's sugar exports. This comparatively inefficient industry, and the social and political institutions that it rests on, have survived because Fiji, as party to the European Union's Sugar Protocol, has received two-and-a-half to three times the world market price for its sugar exports between 1975 and 2009. This thesis makes its case through close textual analysis of Fiji's three constitutions, detailed inspection of Fiji's land-tenure system, and, specifically, the accounts of the Native Land Trust Board, as well as examination of the secondary literature on Fiji's sugar industry.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Political Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Alley, Roderic; Leslie, John