Analysis: Parties Up the Ante As 2018 Election Buildup Intensifies
The political dynamics have shifted up one gear as the buildup for the 2018 General Election intensifies.
The following recent events tell us that the major political parties have upped the ante:
The leaking of a SODELPA list (including a wish list) of applicants and likely applicants for election tickets. The Fiji Sun published the list.
Pio Tikoduadua, former Fiji First Minister for Infrastructure and ex right hand man for Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, joins the National Federation Party
Fiji Labour Party invites applications to be party candidates for the election
SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka’s major election campaign in the US
Its exposure has given an insight into the thought processes going on at the nerve centre of the party.
The fact that some of the people whose names that appeared on the list had not formally lodged their applications is indicative of the desire to get the best candidates to line up for the party come the election.
These are people with impressive credentials who could lift the profile of the party.
Lawyer Lynda Tabuya, leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), would have been a prominent gain and asset for the party. She would have bolstered the women representation and raised standards in the party.
Alipate Qetaki, who has had an illustrious legal career in Government service and was general manager of the iTaukei Land Trust Board before his retirement, would be an ideal candidate with his wide experience. He refused to comment when approached.
There are some senior civil servants on the list too. The search for high calibre candidates is consistent with the purpose of the reforms the party went through more than 18 months ago.
The reforms which included a revised party constitution survived stiff internal opposition from the Ro Teimumu Kepa loyalists. They were intended to help the party to win the next election.
They stemmed from the findings of the Gaunavinaka Report which was critical of the Opposition Office and the Leader of the Opposition, Ro Teimumu.
That report split the party into two groups, the reformers on one hand and the Ro Teimumu group on the other. The issue was resolved internally and everyone was pardoned. However, it did not stop the reforms.
Under the amended constitution, Ro Teimumu stepped down as party leader but kept her Parliamentary role. She became the first casualty of a new provision that a party leader that fails to win an election must step down. Mr Rabuka was subsequently elected as her successor to lead SODELPA into the 2018 General Election.
If SODELPA fails to form the next government then he must step down too like Ro Teimumu. Mr Rabuka’s election as leader has given rise to this perception of a power shift up North where the Cakaudrove, Bua and Macuata (CBM) bloc appears to be the new powerbroker in the party.
The president, who has been given more power, under the reforms, is suspended MP Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the Tui Cakau, paramount chief of Cakaudrove.
Mr Rabuka is from Navatu in Derekeniwai, Cakaudrove. CBM also has a strong lobby in the party. The perception about the CBM domination has resurfaced in the wake of the publication of a list of applicants.
An investigation has been launched to find who leaked the list. It coincides with Mr Rabuka’s claim in the US that his email had been hacked and there was a spy. Mr Rabuka also revealed there were people in the party who did not like him.
Rabuka’s campaign in the US
Mr Rabuka has to reconcile issues he spoke about in the US to those that he discusses here.
In the US, he supported pro-indigenous issues and defended the Great Council of Chiefs. He also spoke on the TLTB and the rights of iTaukei.
Here, he mostly talks about the multiracial approach and principles of democracy on freedom of expression, accountability and transparency. To avoid confusion on official party policies, he needs to clarify where the party stands on these issues. He is due back in the country today.
It is too early to say whether his joining the National Federation Party would shift any of his iTaukei support to the new party from FijiFirst. In the 2014 election, he rode on the popularity of FijiFirst, principally Mr Bainimarama’s support. His negative portrayal of the PM as a reason for his defection could come back to haunt him. In Tailevu, where Mr Tikoduadua comes from, Mr Bainimarama has maintained his support there. Mr Tikoduadua could also take some of SODELPA’s iTaukei support.
There is hope in the Opposition parties that if they can all chip away at FijiFirst’s iTaukei and Indo-Fijian support, they can weaken FijiFirst.
Fiji Labour Party
The Fiji Labour Party has called for applications from people wanting to contest the election on FLP tickets. This is followed by a notice for the annual general meeting of the National Farmers Union at the Labasa Civic Centre on May 2. FLP general secretary and leader Mahendra Chaudhry will also be present. It is obvious that he is returning to the cane belt where the NFU was born and eventually took over sugar politics from the NFP-sponsored Fiji Cane Growers Association.
The NFU became one of the pillars of the FLP in Fiji after the 1987 military coups and helped FLP win that famous 1999 general election which saw Mr Chaudhry sworn in as the first Indo-Fijian prime minister.
Mr Chaudhry would try and recapture those old glory days but he faces a big uphill battle. He is rebuilding his support after he lost it in the wake of his currency exchange conviction. There is one positive on his side. The FLP rival, the PDP, is unlikely to be as strong as it did in 2014.
PDP’s leader, Ms Tabuya, has denied she applied for a SODELPA ticket, raising speculation that PDP may not contest the election. If that happens then it gives FLP a clear run.
The two parties profess to champion workers’ rights. They split the votes and none of them won seat in 2014. It has been said there is room for only one workers’ party.
Opposition parties have learned from the 2014 election that they paid dearly for not preparing well.
This time they are not making the same mistake.