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Reconciling Ethnicity and Nation: Contending Discourses in Fiji's Consitutional Reform

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Title: Reconciling Ethnicity and Nation: Contending Discourses in Fiji's Consitutional Reform
Authors: Norton, Robert
Keywords: chiefs
constitutional reform
show 2 morepolitical change

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LC Subject Headings: Oceania -- Periodicals.
Issue Date: 2000
Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
Citation: Norton, R. 2000. Reconciling Ethnicity and Nation: Contending Discourses in Fiji's Consitutional Reform. The Contemporary Pacific 12 (1): 83-122.
Abstract: The process of Fiji’s recent constitutional reform highlighted the dilemma of reconciling a principle of indigenous Fijian paramountcy with an imperative to shape a multiethnic nation for which non-Fijian, particularly Indian, contributions have long been crucial. The article addresses this dilemma in a discussion of the dominant themes in public discourse about constitutional change, and the relation of these themes to the values, pressures, and opportunities of three arenas: ethnic, national, and international. Three contrasting paradigms for the nation are identified: a universalist vision grounded in international human rights ideology, an exclusionary Fijian ethnonationalism affirmed most strongly in the army coups of 1987 and their aftermath, and an interethnic accommodation and partnership in which leading Fijian chiefs continue to have a stabilizing and legitimating function. The last model prevailed in the constitutional reform, demonstrating a continuity with trends in the shaping of political culture during colonial and early postcolonial times. The story of the constitutional reform is in part the saga of how the ethnonationalist coup maker who became prime minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, has tried to remake himself as a national leader. In the crucial role he eventually assumed as overseer of reform, he depended on support from chiefs and their councils. The paper concludes, against much of the postcoup literature on Fiji, that over the long term the major significance of the chiefs in the national political arena is not as a privileged “vested interest” group obstructing a solution to the problem of establishing a viable democratic polity, but as part of this solution.
ISSN: 1043-898X
Appears in Collections:TCP [The Contemporary Pacific], 2000 - Volume 12, Number 1

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