High Drama Before Rabuka Was Elected

There was high drama after the panel of interviewers yesterday revealed the points scored by candidates for the party leader contest. Sitiveni Rabuka, who was later elected leader, scored 82,
25 Jun 2016 10:05
High Drama Before Rabuka Was Elected

There was high drama after the panel of interviewers yesterday revealed the points scored by candidates for the party leader contest.

Sitiveni Rabuka, who was later elected leader, scored 82, MP Viliame Gavoka scored 77 and former diplomat Anare Jale got 72.

Opponents of Mr Rabuka spoke out against the results, some questioning the system.

But SODELPA president, suspended MP, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, and MP Salote Radrodro defended the process. Ratu Naiqama said this was a more professional system than the one used in 2014 which chose former party leader Ro Teimumu Kepa.

Mrs Radrodro said the management board should accept the professionalism of the panel. It comprised: former SDL prime minister Laisenia Qarase (chairperson), former school principal Ratu Semi Seruvakula, business executive Sikeli Tuituku, lawyer Janet Mason, youth rep Jope Tarai, psychologist Nanise Vucago, and law and political science student at the University of the South Pacific, Sainiana Radrodro.

The management board was supposed to endorse Mr Rabuka because he scored the highest points. After a vigorous debate a yes or no vote was called to see if a majority supported Mr Rabuka. It was then decided that instead of a secret ballot, board members were to vote openly to make the process transparent. Nineteen voted for Mr Rabuka and 14 voted against him.

Eight board members were absent and one abstained.

The process took longer than expected and delayed the annual general meeting where his name was announced and ratified.

Mr Rabuka’s election came as no surprise.

He ticked most of the boxes for the panel. He showed confidence and charisma and a clear vision for the party.

The party needed an “outsider”, not tainted by the internal conflict that had hamstrung the party since 2014, to come in with a fresh perspective.

He was rejected  strongly by the women’s and youth wings when he bid for the position in 2014 because of his role in the 1987 coups. But time is a great healer. Except for the resignation of youth activist Pita Waqavonovono in protest against Mr Rabuka, others have mellowed. Even Mr Rabuka’s strong opponent Ro Teimumu Kepa, the former party leader, who was earlier vocal, said members should now support Mr Rabuka.

The former prime minister got down on his knees and apologised in the traditional way presenting a tabua (whalestooth) to everyone he had hurt since 1987 when he led the first military coups. His conciliatory tone was received well.

Mr Rabuka has jumped the first hurdle. The second is  to reconcile the old party policies like the strong indigenous lobby with his vision to reach out to other races particularly the Indo-Fijians.

He told the interviewers that he was already talking to Indo-Fijians because he believed in multiracialism and inclusiveness. In the 1999 general election, his SVT party and Jai Ram Reddy’s National Federation Party coalition was annihilated. iTaukei  and Indo-Fijian voters did not trust the coalition despite championing a multiracial partnership. The voters were not ready because of what happened in 1987.

At 68, Mr Rabuka knows that he does not have much time to turn the party fortunes around.  He talks about succession planning knowing that one day he would go.  As an experienced politician he knows that politics is a game of numbers and iTaukei votes alone will not not put SODELPA in power.

That’s why the 50-seater bus concept (representing Parliament) is an idea that can be explored further.

It looks at a grand coalition of all the Opposition parties to take on the might of the FijiFirst party. But Mr Rabuka says he will follow the party line and he will not do anything to waste this opportunity. He knows  this is his last chance. It’s his last throw of the dice.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

Got A News Tip

Get updates from the Fiji Sun, handpicked and delivered to your inbox.

By entering your email address you're giving us permission to send you news and offers. You can opt-out at any time.

For All Fiji Sun Advertising
Fijisun E-edition