Fiji's military regime is planning to drop the Union Jack as part of plans to forge a new national identity. The change would be the latest attempt by Fiji to distance itself from its colonial past, after its military rulers were suspended from the Commonwealth following a bloodless coup in 2006 and the regime's repeated failure to hold elections.
Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the military leader, used his national address on New Year's Day to outline plans for the adoption of a new constitution early this year ahead of elections in 2014.
"All of this is to reflect a sense of national renewal, to reinforce a new Fijian identity and a new confidence in being Fijian on the global stage," he said. "We will soon begin using new notes and coins that feature our flora and fauna. And I will be making further announcements this year about revamping our flag."
Britain's association with Fiji goes back to the great voyages of exploration in the 17th century, although London only declared it a British colony in 1874.
The current flag, adopted after Fiji was granted independence in 1970, features the Union flag in the corner and a coat of arms displaying a bunch of bananas and a British lion holding a cocoa pod.
The Reserve Bank of Fiji in November announced plans to remove the Queen's face from the country's national currency. She will be replaced by a flora and fauna design. British royal figures have appeared on Fiji banknotes since 1934 and remained after independence and after the country became a republic in 1987.
Last year, the country also abolished its annual holiday celebrating the Queen's official birthday after it was deemed "no longer relevant". However, the flag has remained untouched, reportedly because several hundred Fijians serve in the British Army.
Opposition figures and tribal chiefs in Fiji said they opposed the change and believed most Fijians would not support it. "This is similar to the decision that the interim administration has made in regards to the currency," the leader of the United Peoples Party, Mick Beddoes, told ABC Radio. "They are making decisions that are the decisions that an elected parliament or an elected executive with the proper mandate of the people, should be making."
The islands' traditional Great Council of Chiefs continued to honour the Queen as paramount chief of Fiji, although she ceased to be head of state when the republic was declared. Cdre Bainimarama claims to have a personal fondness for the Royal family — he has portraits of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh above his office desk — but has been angered by the Commonwealth suspension and Western-led sanctions and has been forging closer ties with other nations, particularly China.
The plans to change the flag prompted calls in Australia to follow the move and remove the Union flag from its own design. "Australians need to wake up," said Harold Scruby, from Ausflag, a group campaigning for a new flag design. "We need to stop pretending this flag is an Australian flag. It is not. How embarrassing Fiji has beaten us to it."