Rabuka Caught In Maelstrom Of Internal Differences, Egos

ANALYSIS: SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka has been in damage control mode in the last few months. At the same time, he has been gradually building his grassroot support with the
27 Dec 2016 11:10
Rabuka Caught In Maelstrom Of Internal Differences, Egos
From Left: Sitiveni Rabuka, Ro Teimumu Kepa, Jese Sikivou.

ANALYSIS: SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka has been in damage control mode in the last few months.

At the same time, he has been gradually building his grassroot support with the help of a small loyal nucleus group.

In a desperate bid to shore up his party support and raise its profile, he had extended invitation to other opposition parties, to unite and defeat FijiFirst in the 2018 general election.

Recently a party statement painted a picture that everyone was united and all was well. It even mentioned Ro Teimumu Kepa saying she was on the same boat.

But two of her staunch supporters, former youth wing leader Peter Waqavonovono and Jese Sikivou, written off by Mr Rabuka loyalists, have given interesting insights in their latest Facebook postings.

They were responding to an article I wrote titled ‘Why unity move will not work’ published last Saturday by the Fiji Sun.

I said deep-seated and unresolved differences between opposition parties will hinder  success of a unity move.

Mr Waqavonovo said: “ Who on earth is talking to Nemani? It sounds rather detailed and has that Gaunavinaka Report insiders look. And FYI the Opposition can unite and it can work.

“The problem is simple, we all need to get rid of the egos and speak honestly to each other.”

But Mr Sikivou, who says he is the traditional spokesperson for Ro Teimumu, said: “I disagree. It’s exactly because the Gaunavinaka faction and the two main movers continue to agitate that Nemani is right.

“Without the Gone Marama Bale, where will they get their numbers from? Also be very interesting to see where SLR (Mr Rabuka) will get his support base apart from the 50 or so vocal supporters he has singing his tune.

“I mean Peter, they all say let him take on Frank me rau qai sota. That is bull dust, they will not have a duel in Ratu Sukuna Park at midday. Frank has the army all sewn up, lock stock and barrell and the guys serving now are too young to remember Rabuka’s time. I reckon SODELPA will split between those loyal to the Gone Marama Bale and the Gaunavinaka faction.”

While attempts have been made to resolve the fallout from the controversial Gaunavinaka Report that Mr Waqavonovono  referred to, it appears the wounds have not completely healed.

The Gaunavinaka Report was critical of Ro Teimumu as Opposition leader and the Opposition Office.

SODELPA conducted an inquiry and pardoned everyone including MP Mosese Bulitavu who led the charge calling for investigations after the Gaunavinaka Report was exposed.

The wounds from that  row were reopened during the debate on a motion in Parliament for parliamentarians’ sitting allowance during Standing Committee meetings be increased.

The SODELPA caucus met and agreed to support the Government motion because the MPs genuinely needed the increase to effectively carry out their responsibilities.

On the morning of the vote, the MPs received a letter from SODELPA president Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu instructing them to vote against the motion because it was not a good look after Tropical Cyclone Winston.

The MPs defied Ratu Naiqama and voted for the motion.

To make matters worse, SODELPA Whip Salote Radrodro and her deputy Mosese Bulitavu broke ranks and did not vote. They were outside.

A showdown developed between the caucus and Ratu Naiqama. Mr Rabuka stepped in to smooth things out and there were meetings to resolve the issue.

The MPs were going to answer questions over their defiance and there was even possibility of penalties.

At the same time, there was a call from within caucus that Mr Bulitavu and Ms Radrodro should be disciplined for defying a caucus decision.

The process did not reach any conclusive outcome. It is understood that the outcome of the Gaunavinaka Report inquiry was designed to minimise the collateral damage to the party because some of the issues in dispute were sensitive and could be detrimental to party unity.

Mr Rabuka has an onerous task of moving forward a party that is fractured in some parts. He has walked into a maelstrom of competing ideological preferences, personality differences and egos.

The battle continues between the traditional conservatives and the reformers, who last year successfully amended the party constitution which introduced sweeping changes. The changes were designed to position the party to give FijiFirst a credible challenge in 2018.

Based on what Mr Sikivou said there are party insiders who ask: Is Ro Teimumu looking at other alternatives outside of SODELPA? She has friends in the National Federation Party and she has been allegedly linked to a proposed new party.

For Mr Rabuka, it is a waiting game. He knows that Ro Teimumu is a valued member of the party.

She has her traditional support as Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi  as well as her political support.

Mr Rabuka needs her. The last thing he wants to see is her leaving the party.

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