Fiji’s new president was sworn in today at Government House in Suva, the island nation’s capital. His Excellency President Jioji (George) Konousi Konrote is the island nation’s first Seventh-day Adventist head of state.
Before I make a decision I get down on my knees and ask the Lord, 'Is this right before you Lord?' And if it is, that’s it—that’s what’s going to be done. It sounds very simplistic but that’s it.
Pastor Luke Narabe, president of the Adventist Church in Fiji, was present at the inauguration and offered an opening prayer as part of the formalities. A multifaith group of religious leaders also laid hands on President Konrote and offered a prayer of blessing.
[Photo courtesy: Fiji Government]
In the days leading up to the inauguration, Adventist Record chatted with the president-elect about his new role, which is notable not just because he is an Adventist, but also because he is a minority ethnic Rotuman and has been appointed under Fiji’s new constitution which no longer requires that a president be from a chiefly family.
Record: So has this appointment come as a surprise to you?
Konrote: It was certainly a surprise—I didn’t expect it, I’m most humbled and very grateful for the fact that I was considered worthy to be appointed to the post.
Record: You do realise, of course, that this means you’re now officially a senior statesman. Does that make you feel old?
Konrote: [laughs] I don’t feel old—I feel ancient!
Record: Is it correct to say you haven’t been an Adventist your whole life?
Konrote: I’m a very new member of the Church. I was born a Methodist and raised as a Methodist, but I left the Methodist church three or four years ago, so I’m a new member of the Church . . . It’s a long story, but a lot of things prompted me and the whole family to make the switch; based on the fact I was [posted as a soldier] in the Middle East and in Israel and that part of the world—the land where the Saviour walked as a person. And the perception I had with what’s going on—reading the Bible and going back and comparing it with the secular history—now that convinced me that I’ve got to do the right thing. It’s not that I don’t like the other denominations, but it’s time, I guess . . . You and I would understand that God has His time and place for everything—when it was time to go I was very much guided by the word of the Lord—you know, “Come out my people, come out from Babylon.” And the rest is history.
Record: You attend the Rotuman church in Suva—is that right?
Konrote: I became a member of the English church in Tamavua but the elders decided—I think the pastor and the secretary decided—that the Rotuman community was getting a bit big for the church and we should branch off and form our own church. So I’m part of that new group.
Record: So how has that group—your fellow Rotumans—reacted to the announcement of your appointment?
Konrote: [laughs] I think like everybody else, people are surprised, but at the same time we’re most thankful. Coming from the only other indigenous community in Fiji, people are most grateful to recognise our little community’s contribution to nation building over the years. As the man on the spot, I’m equally grateful and thankful that at least the contribution of our little community is acknowledged.
[Photo courtesy: Fiji Government]
Record: And you’re not only the first Adventist and the first Rotuman to hold this position, you’re also the first from a non-chiefly line. What’s the significance of that?
Konrote: When we became a republic in ’87 the president was always along the chiefly lines—a paramount chief in Fiji. But our chiefly system from Rotuma is slightly different from the indigenous iTaukei people here, but that’s another story. But I don’t think it is an issue as far as this government is concerned because the constitution is all about equal citizenry and I think the government has made a point that the constitution states that whoever is going to be appointed should have a record of service to the country—and I think that that sums it up.
Record: And a part of that service is your leadership of peace-keeping forces in Lebanon.
Konrote: I spent almost 40 years as a soldier. I left the military and got roped in as a senior civil servant, been posted as a diplomat, then into parliament, then back again in to parliament. I was asked the question, “How does it feel?” I said, “Well, I’ve been serving the country and the people for most of my life so at this time and moment, I must continue to serve the nation, but at the highest level in the land, I guess.”
Record: You come to this role fresh from the Prime Minister’s party. Do you see the role of president becoming more political?
Konrote: On the contrary, I had to resign from politics and my position as a minister. In the appointment of president you’re above politics—you’re apolitical—and that is how I intend to work. I don’t take sides. As far as I’m concerned I’m guided by the terms of the constitution. As a Christian I’m guided by the divine precepts—let’s put it that way.
President Konrote (left) and Prime Minister Bainimarama (right) and their wives. [Photo courtesy: Fiji Government]
Record: So from your position above politics, do you still have a vision for the nation of Fiji?
Konrote: The vision I have for Fiji is in line with the vision of the nation. At the end of the day we want Fiji as one nation, one people, one destiny.
Record: Taking on a position like this comes with a new level of scrutiny. Adventists in particular will be asking, “Is this man going to represent us well?”
Konrote: Let’s put it this way. Not only am I going to represent our little community, but I represent all the people of Fiji—regardless of religion, race, ethnic background, whatever. That’s my guide. But the fact remains: I’m an Adventist.
Record: So you’re saying Adventists shouldn’t be worried?
Konrote: I don’t think they should be worried. People are happy—I’ve been getting the support of the people. All I’m asking is for all Christians—including our Adventist people—is keep praying and keep righteous before the Lord.
Record: Has it been a challenge for you to balance your Christian faith with the hurly burly of everyday politics and the compromises you’re asked to make as someone in that position?
Konrote: The simple answer to that is that I’m very much guided by my conscience and that is based on what is right before the Lord. Before I make a decision I get down on my knees and ask the Lord, “Is this right before you Lord?” And if it is, that’s it—that’s what’s going to be done. It sounds very simplistic but that’s it. That’s the way I’ve been living my life. It doesn’t endear me to a lot of people many times but, you know . . . [laughs] I’ve been a soldier all along. People say, “You’ve gone into politics; you’re a politician.” But I say, “No, I may be in politics as a minister of government, but I will always live my life as a soldier. What is right before the Lord will remain right—there’s no compromise when it comes to that.”
“I will always live my life as a soldier.” President Konrote reviews the honour guard. [Photo courtesy: Fiji Government]