Fiji profile - leaders

  • 23 September 2014
  • From the section Asia

President: Epeli Nailatikau

A veteran army officer, diplomat and hereditary chief, Epeli Nailatikau became president in July 2009 on the retirement of his predecessor Josefa Iloilo.

He was ousted as army chief by coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987, and joined the diplomatic corps. He turned down an opportunity to become prime minister after the 2000 coup, but served in the interim government of Laisenia Qarase.

He was elected speaker after democracy was restored in 2001, and held ministerial posts after the 2006 coup. President Iloilo appointed him vice-president in April 2009, at the same time as he suspended the constitution. Mr Nailatikau endorsed President Iloilo's decision on taking office himself a few months later.

Prime minister: Frank Bainimarama

Frank Bainimarama was sworn in as prime minister in September 2014, eight years after seizing power in a bloodless coup.

He formally took office following a landslide election victory that delivered the legitimacy that had previously eluded the regime that grabbed power in 2006.

He had stepped down as military leader to take part in the election, declaring himself a convert to democracy.

He proudly pointed to the constitution he introduced the previous year, which for the first time gave ethnic Indians the same voting rights as indigenous Fijians.

Mr Bainimarama joined Fiji's navy as an ordinary seaman aged 21 and earned a commission after two years, receiving training in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Malaysia.

Military commander

He served two stints as a UN peacekeeper in Sinai on his way to becoming commander of the country's military forces in 1999.

At the time of the 2006 coup, he said the army was the only institution disciplined enough to usher in real reform, describing it as a long overdue "clean up".

The intervention was needed, he argued, to end widespread corruption and root out entrenched discrimination against ethnic Indians, who make up about 40% of the 900,000 population.

But key regional allies such as Australia and New Zealand labelled him a dictator and imposed sanctions, while the Commonwealth and Pacific Islands Forum suspended Fiji's membership when he reneged on a pledge to hold elections in 2009.