From 1970 until 1987 Fiji was a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of political entities that pledge actual or symbolic allegiance to the British crown. A governor-general represented the British monarch as the head of state, while actual executive power was exercised by a prime minister. Following a military coup in 1987, Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth. Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka, the coup leader, declared Fiji a republic, and the former governor-general was named president. A new constitution, promulgated in 1990, gave ethnic Fijians greater representation in the government, required that the prime minister and the president be ethnic Fijians, and incorporated Fijiís hereditary clan chiefs into the government structure. In 1997 the government approved a new constitution that largely removed preferential treatment for ethnic Fijians in the government. The constitution became effective in July 1998. In October 1997 Fiji was reinstated as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
The head of state is the president. The president is elected to a five-year term by the Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga), which is composed of the highest-ranking members of the traditional chiefly system. A prime minister serves as head of government. The president appoints the prime minister from among the members of parliament, based on the recommendations of those members. Under the 1997 constitution, the prime minister may be of any ethnic origin.
Fiji has a bicameral (two-chamber) legislature consisting of a Senate (upper house) and a House of Representatives (lower house). Under the 1997 constitution, the House of Representatives is a 71-member body, with 25 of its seats open to all races and 46 seats reserved on an ethnic basis (23 for ethnic Fijians, 19 for Indians, 3 for mixed races, and 1 for Rotuma Islanders). Representatives are directly elected and serve a maximum of five years. The 32 members of the Senate are appointed by the president on the basis of nominations by the Great Council of Chiefs (14 members), the prime minister (9), the leader of the opposition (8), and the Council of Rotuma (1). The Senate dissolves on the expiration or dissolution of the House of Representatives. All citizens of Fiji who are at least 21 years old may vote.
The highest court is the Supreme Court, presided over by a chief justice who is appointed by the president. Fiji is divided into four districts, which are divided into 14 provinces. The provinces are governed by elected provincial councils. The villages in each province also have council governments. The national government provides medical and dental services at a relatively low cost. The Fiji Police Force has about 1,400 officers. The Fiji Military Forces, composed predominantly of Fijians, numbered 3,500 in 2001.