Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs abolished

Last updated 13:31 14/03/2012

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Fiji's military dictator Voreqe Bainimarama has sudden abolished one of the South Pacific's oldest political institutions, the Great Council of Chiefs.

The GCC, or Bose Levu Vakaturaga, has existed since 1876 but in a national broadcast this morning Bainimarama says it has perpetuated elitism and created divisive politics.

Bainimarama, who seized power in a coup in 2006, says it is part of the country's colonial past.

He has also decreed that the term Fijian applies to all 837,000 people in the archipelago, including the 37 per cent Indian, while the indigenous people are now to be known as i-Taukei.

Since his coup Bainimarama has refused to allow the GCC to meet but the abolition came as a surprise, particularly as he last week released a programme for creating a new constitution, Fiji's fourth since independence in 1970.

"Over the last 20 years the GCC, including its secretariat, became highly politicised, with its members having political affiliations and membership in political parties," Bainimarama told state controlled broadcasting.

"Unfortunately, this resulted in the GCC and its members unduly involving themselves in national politics and/or taking advantage of the GCC's traditional role to assert personal or political agenda."

Bainimarama has demanded that Fijians of all races must have their voices equally heard and equally represented.

Under the 1997 constitution that Bainimarama has sacked, the GCC – made up of around 55 hereditary chiefs - nominated 14 of the 32 senators and acted as an electoral college for the selection of the president and the vice-president.

The GCC was originally known as the Native Council when founded under British governor Arthur Gordon in 1876. It advised successive colonial governors on indigenous affairs.

Some of its more prominent members were founding Prime Minister Ratu Kamisese Mara and the ratus Lala Sukuna, George and Edward Cakobau and Penaia Ganilau.

Following the 1987 Sitiveni Rabuka coup, the GCC was made an aristocratic body with no powers. Rabuka, who did not qualify to sit on the GCC, later became its chairman when it re-acquired political powers.

The GCC tried to help resolve the 2000 coup in which the government was held hostage for 56 days. Its efforts were ineffectual, but in 2005 it backed the plan of then Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to pass a forgiveness bill for the coup plotters, including George Speight.

Bainimarama suspended it in 2007 and the following year appointed himself as chairman.

The GCC acquired its "great" in the colonial broadcasting era in the 1950s. It always met with tremendous ritual and live broadcasters tended to refer to the participants as "great" chiefs. The adjective stuck.

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