Australian Journal of Politics and History: Volume 64, Number 2, 2018, pp.277-292.
© 2018 The Authors.
Australian Journal of Politics and History © 2018 The University of Queensland and John Wiley &
Sons Australia, Ltd.
The Politics of Transition in Fiji:
Is it Charting a Democratic Course?
School of Government, Development and International Affairs, University of the
Fiji is undergoing a period of political and economic change. At this stage, the jury is out on the
course being charted by the FijiFirst government as it grapples with the dual challenges of
political reform and economic development. With the 2018 general election on the horizon, the
following article considers where Fiji is placed on the authoritarian-democratic spectrum. By
drawing on the comparative literature about transition “from above” and competitive
authoritarianism, we focus on the character of reform in Fiji since the re-institution of elections
in 2014. Our contention is that the shift that skews the system in favour of an incumbent
government often occurs between elections in a less than noticeable manner. The article argues
that while there is an appearance of progress in Fiji, overall the situation is less democratic and
more precarious than it seems.
There is little doubt that the challenges of transition from authoritarian rule to functioning
multi-party democracy are multiple and considerable. Enacting not only effective but
also accepted political reform can encompass a bewildering array of concerns. These
range from party-system development and judicial reform to ensuring greater civilian
control over the military and the routinization of politics via new constitutional
To come through such a process and establish democracy as the “only
game in town”, change has to occur incrementally on the behavioural, attitudinal and
As our experience of democratization phenomena over the last thirty to forty years
tells us, countries do not emerge from this process overnight.
According to T.L. Karl,
transition “from above” imposed by incumbent elites, without a credible opposition, is a
modality of change that can place severe constraints on a process of reform.
is as likely to stall or retreat into a semi-authoritarian condition as it is to progress to a
more democratic outcome.
A. Schedler, “What is Democratic Consolidation?”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 9, 2 (1998), pp.91-
J.J. Linz and A.C. Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe,
South America and post-Communist Europe (Baltimore, 1996).
P.J. Carnegie, The Road from Authoritarianism to Democratization in Indonesia (New York, 2010).
T.L. Karl, “Dilemmas of Democratization in Latin America”, Comparative Politics, Vol. 23, 1 (1990),
M. Ottaway, Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism (Washington D.C., 2003),