Ratu Sir George Cakobau (1912-1989) was Governor General of Fiji from 1972 to 1982. A great-grandson of Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau, the King of Bau who had unified all the tribes of Fiji under his reign in the mid-1800s and subsequently ceded the islands to the United Kingdom in 1874, Ratu Cakobau was Fiji’s highest-ranking traditional chief. Ratu Cakobau, was appointed Governor General in 1972, becoming the first indigenous Fijian to serve as the representative of Queen Elizabeth.
One significant event marked Ratu Cakobau’s tenure as Governor-General. In March 1977, a constitutional crisis developed following a general election which gave a narrow majority to the Indo-Fijian dominated National Federation Party (NFP). Three days after the election, the NFP splintered in a leadership brawl, and Ratu Cakobau, acting as Fiji's effective Head of State, then called on the defeated Prime Minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, to form a new government, pending fresh elections (which were held in September, and resulted in a landslide win for Mara's Alliance Party).
In a public statement, Ratu Cakobau defended his actions thus:
“In the recent general election, the people of Fiji did not give a clear mandate to either of the major political parties. It therefore became the duty of the Governor-General under the Constitution to appoint as Prime Minister the Member of the House of Representatives who appeared to him best able to command the support of the majority of the Members of the House. The Governor-General has not been able to act sooner as it was not until this afternoon that he was informed who had been elected leader of the National Federation Party. The Governor-General, after taking all relevant circumstances into account, has come to the firm conclusion that the person best able to command support of the majority of the Members is the Leader of the Alliance Party, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. In compliance with the Constitution and acting in his own deliberate judgment the Governor-General has accordingly appointed Ratu Sir Kamisese as Prime Minister.”
Although Cakobau's actions were unquestionably constitutional, they were controversial. Despite the disarray in the NFP, many people, especially in the Indo-Fijian community, were outraged at his role in usurping a popular election, in what many Indo-Fijians saw as a blatant move to protect the privileged position of his fellow Fijian chiefs, who dominated the Mara government.
Ratu Cakobau was decorated with many honours during his lifetime. Among these was Royal Victorian Chain, a rare and prestigious honour that may be held by no more than twenty-five living individuals throughout the world at any one time. Ratu Cakobau was awarded this honour as a sign of the special relationship between Fiji and the British Monarchy, following the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1982.
Ratu Cakobau retired from office in 1982, but as Fiji's traditional Paramount Chief, he remained influential until his death in 1989.