Ratu Sir Penaia Kanatabatu Ganilau (28 July 1918-15 December 1993) was the first President of Fiji, serving from 8 December 1987 till his death. He had previously served as Governor General, representing Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, from 12 February 1983 to 15 October 1987.
Ratu Ganilau was Governor General at the time of the 1987 coups carried out by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. After the first coup on May 14, 1987, Ganilau defiantly refused to give up the office of Governor General. Attempting to uphold the constitution, Ganilau tried to return Fiji to parliamentary democracy, but a second coup forced him to resign as Governor-General on 15 October 1987, thus severing Fiji’s links to the British Monarchy.
In his letter of resignation, addressed to Queen Elizabeth II, Ganilau wrote:
“With humble duty, I wish to submit to you the following advice, acting in my capacity as your representative in Fiji. Owing to the uncertainty of the political and constitutional situation in Fiji, I have now made up my mind to request Your Majesty to relieve me of my appointment as Governor-General with immediate effect. This I do with utmost regret, but my endeavours to preserve constitutional government in Fiji have proved in vain, and I can see no alternative way forward. With deepest respect, Penaia Ganilau Governor-General.”
On 8 December 1987, Ratu Ganilau was appointed the first ever President of the new Republic of Fiji. He saw to the appointment of the interim civilian Government that was to lead Fiji for a five-year transitional period of constitutional change. During this time, he presided over the promulgation of the Constitution of 1990. The first general elections since the crisis of 1987 were held in 1992. He remained President and Head of State until his death in 1993, though ill-health had forced him to hand over most of his day-to-day functions to the Vice-President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, in 1992, though he remained the official President until he died.
Ganilau was married three times, and had two daughters and six sons, of whom one, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, has followed in his footsteps in pursuing a political career of his own. Prior to his appointment as Governor-General, Ganilau served as a member of Parliament since 1963, and as a Cabinet Minister. As a statesman, Ganilau was regarded as a moderate conservative, upholding the traditions of the chiefly system but embracing modern political institutions.