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You are unlikely to see any signs that it even occurred, but Fiji's 2006 coup still headlines the local news, as it will until the interim government steps aside and the country holds democratic elections, perhaps in 2009.

About half the people in Fiji reside in urban areas and deal with typical matters like traffic jams, while the others live out in the countryside trying to squeeze a living from sugar-cane farms, or to provide provisions for their traditional Fijian villages. Wherever they are, politics is not first and foremost on their agendas.

Thanks to its industrious Indian residents, Fiji is a relatively developed Third World country. With a multitude of buses and taxis, the transportation system is efficient and relatively inexpensive, though service from the two domestic airlines is a little more unpredictable. The electrical system is reliable, as are communications. Only one TV station serves the country's viewers, but more are on the way. Despite periodic disruptions in some areas, the water pipes provide clean water to the taps.

All of which means that travel in Fiji is overall both efficient and comfortable.

Government

Fiji had a Westminster-style government prior to the 2006 coup. A 71-member parliament consisted of 23 seats reserved for Fijians, 19 for Indians, 1 for Rotuma (a Polynesian island north of Viti Levu), 3 for general electors (anyone who's a Fijian, Indian, or Rotuman), and 25 for any citizen regardless of race. The Great Council of Chiefs picked the country's largely figurehead president, who presided over an appointed senate with relatively little power.

Since the coup the country has had an interim government headed by the military commander, navy Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who had threatened for most of 2006 to "clean up" elected Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's Fiji nationalist government, which he accused of being both corrupt and racist. His interim government consists of a broad range of local leaders, including Mahendra Chaudhry as finance minister. Chaudhry was deposed as prime minister during the country's racially motivated insurrection in 2000 and was a key player in the coalition government removed by Fiji's first coup in 1987.

Bainimarama has agreed in principle to hold elections in 2009 after changes to the country's constitution, specifically removal of the race-based electoral system by which nationalist Fijians maintained a majority in parliament.

While the Fijian-Indian racial divide gets most of the blame for the coups, the situation is more complicated. Many indigenous Fijians are educated, live in urban areas, hold responsible positions in tourism and other industries, and deal with Indians on a daily basis. They are at opposites with other Fijians, especially some fundamentalist Christians, who see Indians as heathens who should be deported. In addition, the country has a hereditary system of Fijian chiefs, some of whom have always been rivals. Some descendants of Cakobau, the chief of tiny Bau Island who rose to national power with the help of European settlers in the 1840s, were prime backers of the Fiji nationalist government ousted in 2006. Their rivals are members of the high-ranking Ganilau clan, two of whom are serving as ministers in today's interim government.

Economy

Tourism is far and away Fiji's largest industry. Although the number of visitors dropped off following the December 2006 coup, earlier record demand spurred a hotel construction boom. Sugar and garment manufacturing -- Fiji's other economic mainstays -- have also fallen off. Grown primarily by Indian farmers on land leased from Fijians, the sugar cane is harvested between June and November and crushed in five aging sugar mills -- all of which need repair and upgrading -- operated by the government-owned Fiji Sugar Corporation. The number of farmers has decreased since Fijian landowners have not renewed many of their land leases (some displaced farmers have moved into shanties around Suva). In addition, the country lost European Union sugar price supports and favorable trade preferences for garments sold to the United States and Australia.

Behind sugar, the country's leading exports are the famous "Fiji" mineral water, fresh and frozen fish, tuna canned at Levuka, timber and wood products, taro and cassava, and gold mined in northern Viti Levu. For domestic consumption, Fiji produces furniture, coffee (you'll get a rich, strong brew throughout the country), and other consumer goods (the Colgate toothpaste you buy in Fiji most likely will have been made here). Suva is also a major transshipment point for goods destined for other South Pacific islands. Remittances from locals overseas also contribute significantly to the economy.

Nevertheless, unemployment is a persistent problem in Fiji. More than half the population is under 25, and there just aren't enough jobs being created for young people joining the workforce. About 50% of all households live below the official poverty line or just above it. As a consequence, the country has seen a marked increase in burglaries, robberies, home invasions, and other crimes.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.