ROMITESH KANT  |  Part 1 of 2

The recent controversy surrounding salary increases for Fiji’s parliamentarians has sparked public outrage and triggered a significant internal crisis within the FijiFirst party. This situation has brought to light the fragile structure and autocratic tendencies of a party that has long been a dominant force in Fijian politics. Here, we delve into the unfolding drama within FijiFirst, examining the repercussions of this crisis and the broader implications for the party’s future.

Since its inception on March 31, 2014, under the leadership of Frank Bainimarama, the military commander who orchestrated the 2006 coup, FijiFirst has experienced a rollercoaster ride in Fijian politics. The party’s meteoric rise to power, culminating in a majority government win in the 2014 parliamentary elections with 59.17 per cent of the vote, was followed by a steady decline in subsequent elections. Their support dwindled to 52.94 per cent in 2018 and further to 42.55 per cent in 2022, relegating the party to the opposition. Throughout this journey, FijiFirst has been marked by a strong central leadership and a perceived lack of internal democratic processes, evident in the absence of annual general meetings or conventions.

According to Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, a former Attorney General and founding member of FijiFirst, the party’s constitution vested significant power in the hands of the founding members. These members held the exclusive right to vote for and appoint individuals to the central executive committee, a structure that has been a defining feature of the party’s internal dynamics.

The controversy began when 16 FijiFirst Members of Parliament voted in favour of salary and benefit increases for the President, Prime Minister, Ministers, Leader of the Opposition, and other MPs. This move was against the party’s directive, leading to the FijiFirst leadership threatening disciplinary action. Party President Ratu Joji Satakala announced that the party would take action against these MPs, including Leader of the Opposition Inia Seruiratu, citing their decision as self-serving and against its core values. The party wrote to the Speaker, Ratu Naiqama, informing him of suspending 17 FijiFirst MPs (16 who voted for the salary increase and one MP who was part of the Parliamentary Emoluments Committee, which recommended the increase).

The fallout from the salary vote has exposed significant rifts within FijiFirst. MPs like Mosese Bulitavu and Jone Usamate have openly questioned the party’s handling of the situation, a rare occurrence in a party known for its centralised control. Bulitavu highlighted the exclusion of Seruiratu from the Leadership Committee, questioning whether the party was breaching its constitution. Usamate and the other MPs have disputed the legality of their termination, arguing that they were not given a fair chance to respond to the allegations.

Adding to the internal chaos, the Fiji Corrections Service is investigating where Bainimarama, who is currently serving a one-year jail sentence after being convicted of perverting the course of justice, signed the termination letters of the 17 opposition MPs, adding another layer of uncertainty and controversy.

The internal turmoil within FijiFirst has been exacerbated by Bainimarama’s recent imprisonment and the resignation of former Attorney General and Party General Secretary Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in 2022. Bainimarama’s name is set to be struck off the voter list, further disqualifying him from holding any political office. This leadership vacuum has left the party directionless and fragmented, as evidenced by conflicting directives and a need for more coherent communication from the top.

The situation worsened with the resignation of key party officials, including Bainimarama, Sayed-Khaiyum, and six other executives. This mass exodus has left the party leaderless and in disarray, with the remaining MPs expected to continue in Parliament as independents.

The internal strife within FijiFirst has elicited varied reactions from the public—many express dismay at the evident lack of democratic processes within the party. Public trust in FijiFirst, already shaken by the controversial salary increase vote, has been further eroded by the internal conflicts and the leadership’s heavy-handed approach. The situation is exacerbated by the suspended MPs openly questioning party processes, a rarity within FijiFirst. The criticisms from inside and outside the party highlight a broader disillusionment with its leadership and direction.

Navigating the current crisis requires FijiFirst to urgently address its internal governance issues and comply with the Registrar’s directive. However, this path is fraught with challenges, particularly due to the party’s entrenched power structures as outlined in its constitution. Despite the recent resignation of all founding members on June 7, 2024, significant steps must be taken to stabilise the party and ensure its survival.

FijiFirst must promptly amend its constitution to include provisions for resolving internal disputes. This step is crucial to meet the legal requirements and prevent deregistration. The resignation of the founding members, who previously held significant power in amending the constitution, presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Without their influence, there may be a more democratic approach to amending the constitution, but it also requires swift and organised efforts to fill the leadership vacuum.


Romitesh Kant is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Pacific Affairs, Australian National University.