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ANALYSIS: Rabuka’s Wrong Turn Comes Back To Haunt His Political Career

ANALYSIS: Rabuka’s Wrong Turn Comes Back To Haunt His Political Career
Sitiveni Rabuka outside SODELPA office. Photo: Ronald Kumar.
May 30
11:00 2018

When Sitiveni Rabuka was contem­plating his political comeback he had a fair idea of how he will strengthen SODELPA if he was given a chance to lead it.

He envisaged SODELPA broadening its ap­peal base to attract Indo-Fijians and other races to the party.

This meant changing or modifying policies that were racist in nature when they were measured against the equality provisions of the Constitution.

This was the only way it would have a real­istic hope of defeating the FijiFirst Govern­ment. It might not happen in this general election but may be the one after that.

SODELPA can win solely on the basis of its iTaukei support if it gets most if not all of the registered iTaukei support. So far this has become an elusive target.

But there seemed to be belief in some quar­ters of SODELPA that they could do it with Mr Rabuka at the helm.

The same group, heavily influenced by the Vanua Levu lobby, that was instrumental in forcing Opposition leader Ro Teimumu Kepa out as party leader by amending the party constitution, had sought Mr Rabuka because of his charisma and political expe­rience.

After Mr Rabuka became leader, he discov­ered that many of the party stalwarts were still entrenched in the old party ideologies. It was a difficult battle to make them change their mindset and embrace his more liberal ideas. He tried his best to change it. He even­tually chose political expediency instead of showing political courage and saying “this is the way to the future for SODELPA if we want to be in Government.” It became a choice between short term and long term goals. This was where Mr Rabuka made the wrong turn.

Because SODELPA did not change, it’s in­evitable it will suffer the consequences. It should have taken its cue from Ro Teimumu who realised earlier on that they needed to change direction.

She led by example and made a significant statement in Parliament, without any fan­fare, that she had embraced the use of Fijian as a common name. It is understood that it was not discussed in the parliamentary cau­cus and in the party prior to her announce­ment. She probably knew it was going to be rejected.

Nevertheless she showed leadership and political courage. It was therefore easy for her to give her blessings as the Gone Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi (Paramount chief of Rewa and Burebasaga) to draft descend­ants of Girmitiyas into the chiefly clan of the Tui Noco as the “luvedra na Ratu”.

Mr Rabuka on the other hand lacked the political will and courage to pursue his original idea. He decided to go with the flow and follow the old ideologies to retain the iTaukei support for the party.

He knew he was not having much luck with the Indo-Fijians voters.

He then initiated, with the help of Fiji La­bour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry and then leader of the People’s Democratic Par­ty Lynda Tabuya, coalition talks, as another way of capturing the Indo-Fijian votes. But the big differences between the parties made it impossible to formalise any arrangement. The controversial Memorandum of Under­standing between PDP and SODELPA gen­erated more questions than answers to Mr Rabuka’s bid to build SODELPA’s support base.

It was more complicated when Ro Teimu­mu put on hold her retirement plans to contest the 2018 general election. While her joining the election team was welcomed, there was worry in some quarters that she could poll more than Mr Rabuka. If that hap­pened, would she automatically take over as the new party leader? This has sparked a contest between the two leaders’ camps on who will score more votes.

For Mr Rabuka, it is now a question of po­litical survival. He is now paying the price for making the wrong turn.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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