Laisenia Qarase (pronounced [ŋɡaˈrase]; 4 February 1941 – 21 April 2020) was a Fijian politician. He served as the sixth Prime Minister of Fiji from 2000 to 2006. After the military quashed the coup that led to the removal of Mahendra Chaudhry, Qarase joined the Interim Military Government as a financial adviser on 9 June 2000, until his appointment as Prime Minister on 4 July. He won two parliamentary elections, but a military coup removed him from power on 5 December 2006. He was later imprisoned on corruption charges brought by the military-backed regime.
|Prime Minister of Fiji|
16 March 2001 – 5 December 2006
|Preceded by||Tevita Momoedonu|
|Succeeded by||Jona Senilagakali|
4 July 2000 – 14 March 2001
|President||Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda|
|Succeeded by||Tevita Momoedonu|
|Born||4 February 1941|
Vanua Balavu, Colony of Fiji
|Died||21 April 2020 (aged 79)|
|Political party||Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua|
|Spouse(s)||Leba Qarase (?–2020; his death)|
Qarase was born in 1941 into the Tota clan in Mavana on Vanua Balavu, the son of Josateki Mate of Mavana village. After attending local schools, he enrolled at Suva Boys Grammar School. Following his education at Suva Boys Grammar School, Qarase left Fiji in 1959 and went on to graduate from New Zealand's University of Auckland with a degree in Commerce. He got his first job at the Fijian Affairs Board and served as a career civil servant at the ministries of Finance, Commerce and Industry and Public Service. He entered the banking profession and became the first ethnic Fijian managing director of the publicly owned Fiji Development Bank (FDB) in 1983, a position he held for fifteen years. After the 1987 coup, he was called in by the new government to help to rebuild the damaged economy. He introduced the nine-point plan which oversaw extended government assistance to Fijians and the creation of Fijian Holdings. However, the plan mostly resulted in bankruptcies and he was embroiled in a scandal in Fijian Holdings over the acquisition of shares by his family. In 1994, he became the chairman of Fiji Television and clashed with the government for not consulting him over its plans to introduce US investment into the company.
Qarase had Indigenous Fijian, Tongan, and Jewish ancestry. He was married to Leba Qarase, with whom he had five children. Qarase was a chief in his native village of Mavana, on the island of Vanua Balavu, where he held the traditional chiefly title of Tui Kobuco.
On the occasion of his 65th birthday on 4 February 2006, Qarase stated that if re-elected in the election that was duly held on 6–13 May, it would very likely be his last term in office. He won re-election, but continuing disagreements between his government and the powerful Republic of Fiji Military Forces culminated in a military coup on 5 December. Fiji Village reported the next day that he had been flown to his home island of Vanuabalavu by the military, while Radio New Zealand claimed that he had fled there. He told Radio New Zealand that he was "down but not out"; he intended to fight on, and called for a peaceful popular uprising. On the same day it was reported that he had asked for military assistance from Australia. The BBC reported that after being warned by Commodore Bainimarama not to "incite violence", Prime Minister Qarase planned to return to Suva, from which he was banished, but was warned that he faced arrest if he returned.
From Vanuabalavu, he remained outspoken in condemning the military takeover, comparing the new regime to those of Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, and Idi Amin, in an interview quoted in the Fiji Times and Fiji Village on 13 and 14 December 2006.
On 2 February, Fiji Village quoted Qarase as having told Radio Australia that he was considering contesting the election to restore democracy, expected to be held within the next five years. Qarase called for the date to be brought forward.
On 6 September 2007, Bainimarama imposed a renewed state of emergency for one month, alleging that Qarase and his spokesman, Peceli Kinivuwai, were spreading lies and attempting to cause destabilization, following Qarase's return to Suva after having been confined to Vanuabalavu since his ousting. Bainimarama said that Qarase and his spokesman should return to Vanuabalavu and that they could "talk from there."
Elections were tentatively set on February 2009 but did not occur until September 2014. Qarase was one of several politicians banned from running for office and his political party was forced to disband. It reorganized, but was forced to take a name in English, not Fijian (Social Democratic Liberal Party). It was later forced to change its initials to not match Qarase's former party, although its policy positions remained similar.
In January 2010, it was reported that Qarase would stand trial on charges, brought by the Military-backed interim government, of abusing his office. Qarase was found guilty of abusing his office and failing to perform his duty, and sentenced on 3 August 2012 to one year in prison. His supporters say the charges were politically motivated.
He was from Vanua Balavu in northern Lau and had native Fijian, Tongan, and Jewish ancestry.
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