NEWS

Take the Heat or Get Out, Chiefs Must Decide

How do you treat a chief in Politics? Can you draw the line between a chief and a politician These questions came up again in Parliament yesterday. It was brought
13 Feb 2016 13:07
Take the Heat or Get Out, Chiefs Must Decide
Analysis

How do you treat a chief in Politics?

Can you draw the line between a chief and a politician

These questions came up again in Parliament yesterday.

It was brought up during the debate over the Opposition motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. The motion also proposed Ro Teimumu Kepa to take over.

SODELPA Opposition Member of Parliament Viliame Gavoka objected to how Minister for Education Mahendra Reddy had  made references to  Ro Teimumu while praising Mr Bainimarama for sitting down with the people in his baseball cap.

He said: “We do not say anything harmful or say anything that is likely to harm relations in this country.

“You cannot suggest for the Roko Tui Dreketi to sit on the floor. You can’t, that is harmful in the manner  that you’re saying it, it is not right. We are not allowed to incite feelings in this House and in this nation.”

Mr Bainimarama retorted: “She is here as a politician, not as a Adi or as a Ro. That’s what I always talk about when I talk about leadership in this country. She is here as a politician. She should accept that.”

In another words politicians are all equal and no one gets preferential treatment.This is an age-old question.

Should chiefs be given preferential treatment in the political arena? In the 1970’s, the late Sakeasi Butadroka, founder of the then Fijian Nationalist Party, well known for his pro-indigenous policies, once told me during an interview: “If chiefs can’t take the heat, then they must quit politics. In the political arena, the gloves are off. It’s a no holds barred contest.”

Mr Butadroka was challenging the then Alliance Government led by the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the former Tui Nayau, Sau ni Vanua ko Lau (Paramount chief of Lau). He was married to Lady Ro Lala Mara, older sister of Ro Teimumu, who held the Roko Tui Dreketi title then. The Alliance team was stacked with chiefs including Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau, Ratu William Toganivalu, Ratu David Toganivalu, whose followers objected to criticisms against their chiefs.

Mr Butadroka suggested what he called a lasting solution. He proposed that chiefs should stay out of politics and focus on their core traditional roles if they did not want to be vilified publicly.

We should follow the doctrine of the separation of power in our system of democratic government. We have the Legislature (Parliament), Executive (Civil Service) and the Judiciary. They are separated to avoid the abuse of power.

In the same vein,  politics and the chiefly system and the Vanua should be separate to prevent conflict of interest and possible abuse of power.

A chief who wants to enter the political arena and his or her subjects must be prepared to cope with the barrage of attacks. If they can’t then he or she should not go into politics. The chief cannot use his or her chiefly status and influence to curry political favour. It could incite ill-feelings and tension.But public perceptions have changed since Mr Butadroka’s days. The demographic changes means more young people are participating in politics.

They are more worried about economic issues, better education and jobs than a chief getting criticised in Parliament.

So the onus is on the chief and his or her subjects to decide which side they want to be on. They cannot have it both ways.

 

Edited by Maraia Vula

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