ANALYSIS: Ratu Naiqama Saga Exposes SODELPA Cracks

There are signs of cracks in SODELPA solidarity in the wake of the suspension of MP Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu from Parliament for derogatory remarks against the Speaker. SODELPA and National
23 May 2015 09:00
ANALYSIS: Ratu Naiqama Saga Exposes SODELPA Cracks
Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu leaving Parliament on Thursday night. Photo: Paulini Ratulailai

There are signs of cracks in SODELPA solidarity in the wake of the suspension of MP Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu from Parliament for derogatory remarks against the Speaker.

SODELPA and National Federation Party MPs have refused to comment outside of Parliament.

In the SODELPA ranks MPs who contributed to the debate fell into three groups. The first group led by Niko Nawaikula, Viliame Gavoka and Semesa Karavaki argued that Ratu Naiqama was quoted out of context. They also argued that the issue was outside the jurisdiction of the privileges committee.

They all toed the line of Mick Beddoes, Opposition Office’s principal administration officer. Mr Beddoes said the slurs against the Speaker were said in jest.

The second group  focused on the severity of the penalty meted out to Ratu Naiqama and not on the actual offence. Did they disagree with the words used by Ratu Naiqama?

The third group elected to stay silent probably because they knew it was a fait accompli.

When the vote was taken to originally refer the issue to the Privileges Committee, 11 members of the Opposition, did not vote even though they were present. They included SODELPA MPs Ro Teimumu Kepa, Niko Nawaikula, Mikaele Leawere, Anare Vadei, Viliame Gavoka, Ratu Suliano Matanitobua, Ratu Sela Nanovo, Isoa Tikoca, Salote Radrodro, Aseri Radrodro. Those who voted against the motion included Ratu Naiqama, Mosese Bulitavu, Semesa Karavaki, Kiniviliame Kiliraki and Jiosefa Dulakiverata.

Because of their constant refusal to comment on their position, even though it might have been a conscience vote, the voting pattern indicated differences in opinions.

It suggests either a lack of cohesion or unity within the party ranks which is manifesting itself at Parliament level.

This is a concern among party faithfuls who expect their MPs to take a united stand on all issues as a show of solidarity.

The Ratu Naiqama issue should draw all SODELPA MPs together. It offers an ideal opportunity to close ranks. But the unity displayed in the walkout on Thursday and the boycott yesterday at best is fragile and unlikely to last in the long term.

Mr Beddoes who was  seen earlier as a liability for the party with his public utterances, is now back in the spotlight with his comments about Ratu Naiqama’s derogatory remarks against the Speaker. Party insiders feel strongly that he should have stayed out of the controversy. His comments were used as ammunition by Government MPs to criticize Ratu Naiqama.

The low turnout at the party’s recent political meetings has been attributed to the general apathy of its supporters. SODELPA MPs have been slow to revisit  their strongholds after last year’s election.

This will be expressed at the party’s annual general meeting in July.

Yesterday’s boycott of  the sitting of Parliament was a desperate measure to make sense of their plummeting fortunes in the debating chambers. It was a continuation of the walkout they staged on Thursday night when they lost the vote on Ratu Naiqama. Some staunch party members say MPs need to realize that they will always lose the vote in a contest because they are outnumbered in Parliament. Instead of boycotts and walkout, they should be in Parliament and continue to challenge Government. Their contribution is what makes an effective Parliament. An  effective Opposition is one that fights for every inch in Parliament. It is more effective inside than outside.

This is the second time that the Opposition has missed out on a major debate. The first was the Budget last year and now the new Companies Bill which has 752 sections.

One party insider said: “The MPs were elected to be in Parliament and challenge Government, not bark from outside.”




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