Fijian politician, prime minister 1970–92 and president 1994–2000. He founded the moderate nationalist Alliance Party in 1960 and, as its leader, led the Fijian delegation to a constitutional conference in London in 1965. The outcome of this conference was greater autonomy, which led to Mara becoming chief minister in 1967, before independence was achieved, within the British Commonwealth, in 1970.
On Fijian independence, Mara became prime minister and also served as foreign affairs minister from 1977. He remained in power until the April 1987 general election, which was won by the multiracial Fijian Labour Party (FLP), led by Timoci Bavadra. In December 1987 Mara was restored to office, following a series of coups by Major General Sitiveni Rabuka, and proceeded to introduce controversial changes to the constitution that were designed to entrench in power the ethnic Fijian community. Mara also promoted an ambitious programme for economic growth. He stepped down at the 1992 general election and became deputy president. He was appointed president by the Great Council of Chiefs in January 1994, following the death of Sir Penaia Ganilau. He remained head of state from 1997 under a new, non-racial constitution, until a coup, perpetrated by businessman George Speight, launched the capital of the Fiji Islands, Suva, into rioting in May 2000. The government was sacked, the military seized power, and President Mara resigned, leaving the head of Fiji's armed forces, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, as the new leader. Bainimarama declared martial law and revoked the 1997 democratic constitution.
Born into a noble family, Mara was educated in Fiji, New Zealand, and at Oxford University and the London School of Economics, England. He entered the colonial administrative service in 1950 and became a member of the Fiji legislative council (later the house of representatives) in 1953 and of the executive council in 1959.