The Highs and Now Lows of Fiji Labour Party

The late Dr Timoci Bavadra, Fiji Labour Party’s first leader, was a deep thinker and a man of profound wisdom. For many months before the party was born, he used
16 Aug 2014 18:36

The late Dr Timoci Bavadra, Fiji Labour Party’s first leader, was a deep thinker and a man of profound wisdom.

For many months before the party was born, he used to share rare insights of what was going on through his mind during our early morning walks in Laucala Beach, near Suva.

He had a senior position in the Ministry of Health and was also the president of the Fiji Public Service Association. The FPSA general secretary was Mahendra Chaudhry, now the FLP leader.

Among the pending issues that the trade unions had against the government at the time was the teachers’ fight against the late Dr Ahmed Ali, the Minister for Education, for better pay and conditions. As we walked one morning he asked me: “What do you think is the other alternative. The teachers are not getting anywhere with Dr Ali.”

After a pause, he continued “the only option left is to take the fight to the political arena.”

It was a few weeks later that I realised he was not talking about referring their grievances to the existing opposition parties. After a few phone calls, I got the feeling that something was brewing because officials were non-committal.

I then wrote a political column in the Fiji Sun headlined “The writing is on the wall for the formation of a new political party”. When the article came out, the new Fiji Labour Party was being planned and formed behind the scene. Mr Chaudhry, one of the pioneers, and others were waiting for Dr Bavadra to settle his affairs as director for health, and resign before they could launch the party with Dr Bavadra as president and leader in July. Many prominent professionalso including educationist Krishna Datt (PDP) and academic Dr Tupeni Baba (SODELPA) joined the party.

This was the heyday of the FLP. Members of the trade union movement joined in large numbers. Dr Bavadra was the ideal leader. He resented racism and championed multiracialism. His vision was a Fiji for all.

He said: “Our fight is political, yes – but it is more. It is just and is fair. Do not be afraid. Many have faced times more trying than this. What are we if we cannot stand up for what is right and work for what is fair? There must be the basic standards of good we set ourselves – and if we follow them we cannot falter. In the end, we will prevail”.

This led to the forming of a coalition between the FLP and the National Federation Party. He became the coalition leader and subsequently defeated Ratu Sir Kasmisese Mara’s Alliance Party in the April general election of 1987.

A military coup the following month ended his reign.

After he died , his wife, the late Adi Kuini, assumed the leadership. She too died not long after that.

Mr Chaudhry became the leader and established his brand of strong leadership. That did not go down well with some members of the party. There was a revolt and Dr Baba and others broke away and formed the new Fiji Labour Party. The new group has since been dissolved.

Mr Chaudhry rebuilt the party and in 1999 won the general election and was sworn in as the first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister. But in 2000 he was deposed by a George Speight coup. Since then he has struggled to maintain the party strength.

One of his powerful allies, the trade union bloc led by Felix Anthony, split from the FLP to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) over differences on his style of leadership. In an act of desperation, Mr Chaudhry agreed for FLP to go into coalition with SODELPA even though their policies do not agree

His conviction for breaching the Exchange Control Act makes him ineligible to contest the election. It has further eroded his support.

Mr Chaudhry’s future as FLP leader hangs in the balance. Can he continue as leader after his conviction and without him being in Parliament? Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem said that he had not read the court ruling rejecting his appeal so he could not comment.

FLP is in a serious leadership crisis. The major problem is no one has been groomed to take over the reins when Mr Chaudhry bows out. For all these years he has been the face of FLP. Apart from the president, Lavenia Padarath, there is no one else who can be seen as a logical successor.

Dr Bavadra would be turning in his grave because of the decline in FLP support

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