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ANALYSIS: Outlook On Chiefs Changing In SODELPA Senior Ranks

ANALYSIS: Outlook On Chiefs Changing In SODELPA Senior Ranks
October 06
10:30 2015

The level of chiefs’ political involvement in  SODELPA’s leadership is now a subject of serious discussion in the party’s senior ranks.

Some of the most radical ideas include the easing out of chiefs like the Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu (SODELPA president, and Ro Teimumu Kepa from the party’s decision-making process  to allow them  to return to their traditional chiefly roles.

The chiefs can become ordinary members of the party but have no direct involvement in the leadership at all levels of the hierarchy.

This idea surfaced after the Jese Sikivou letter which complained about the disrespectful way Ro Teimumu, the Roko Tui Dreketi and paramount chief of Rewa and Burebasaga confederacy, was treated in the debate over the controversial Gaunavinaka confidential report.

The letter claimed that the Vanua of Rewa had been deeply hurt and disappointed about the conduct of SODELPA MP and lawyer Mosese Bulitavu and others. Mr Bulitavu had called on Ro Teimumu and Mick Beddoes to step down pending an inquiry. Mr Beddoes is the principal administrative officer in the Opposition Office.

The report was highly critical of the leadership of Ro Teimumu and the governance of the Opposition Office.

Dragging the vanua to politics appears to be the last straw for several senior party members who are concerned with its damaging impact on unity.

The only solution is to sever that vanua arm and keep it separate away from politics.

To be able to do that, the only way is to remove chiefs from political leadership.

It will prevent another incidence of the Sikivou letter. Where the chiefs go the vanua goes.

Separating the vanua from politics has been attempted by various politicians over many years but it has had a nominal effect.

It was made difficult by previous Constitutions which provided race-based general elections and recognised the Great Council of Chiefs at the pinnacle of iTaukei societal structure.

In the iTaukei traditional environment, democratic principles do not exist. The chiefs make the final decision whether you agree or not. You have to acquiesce to whatever the chiefs decide. It’s a form of autocratic rule. The same system is in direct conflict with democracy where the will of the majority is accepted and respected.

The two are diametrically opposed and they will not gel.

That’s why the call has come from a section of SODELPA that the vanua and chiefs must be kept away from politics.

There is also concern that iTaukei are restricted in front of their chiefs. They cannot speak their mind out of respect for the chiefs. For many of them it is extremely awkward and sometimes frustrating to say things that are culturally insensitive.  It means they cannot say things that are offensive and humiliating.

When Mr Bulitavu openly criticised Ro Teimumu he was regarded as a rebel for being disrespectful. It prompted Mr Sikivou to write that letter.

Mr Bulitavu’s opinion piece in the Fiji Sun  which said that he backed the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama in his decision to scrap the Great Council of Chiefs was initially not received well by the party. But after discussions there is a gradual shift.

Some of the senior party members say there is merit in some of the issues raised by Mr Bulitavu and they want to explore them a bit more. Mr Bulitavu’s opinion piece and Mr Sikivou’s letter have provoked the discussions about chiefs.

A clear consensus seems to be emerging from those looking for positive change on the basis of the following:

Chiefs should return to their traditional base and leave politics to the commoners.

Vanua and politics should not mix

Chiefs who want to remain in politics must be prepared to take the heat.



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