Ro Teimumu May Still have the Last Laugh

SODELPA will have to live with a lame-duck Opposition leader again if it fails to win next year’s general election. If it loses the election, party leader Sitiveni Rabuka will
10 Feb 2017 11:19
Ro Teimumu May Still have the Last Laugh

SODELPA will have to live with a lame-duck Opposition leader again if it fails to win next year’s general election.

If it loses the election, party leader Sitiveni Rabuka will be held responsible and required to step down and give way to a new leader, according to the party’s new amended constitution.

The same constitutional provision forced Opposition leader, Ro Teimumu Kepa, to relinquish her party leader role last year.

Mr Rabuka was elected to replace her.

If he wins his seat but the party fails to form the next government, he loses his party leader role.

If SODELPA wins and forms government he becomes the Prime Minister.

Indications so far show that FijiFirst is poised for a second term in Government with a comfortable majority in Parliament.

So Mr Rabuka, assuming he wins his seat, will await the party’s Parliamentary caucus vote for a new Leader of the Opposition. It could be another MP and not him.

But if he becomes Opposition leader, he will be like Ro Teimumu now, whose influence is only confined to the caucus and Opposition Office. Outside of that she listens to the party and follows its directives.

Her former adviser in the Opposition Office Mick Beddoes, who has resigned from the party, said in statement the decision by Ro Teimumu to nominate Mr Rabuka for the Constitutional Offices Commission (COC) to replace Richard Naidu “reflects the wishes of the SODELPA caucus and party leadership.”

Ro Teimumu has boycotted the COC for 14 months after Mr Naidu resigned. Both claimed the COC had become an electronic rubber stamp.

Mick Beddoes said he personally hoped she maintained her year-long protest as outlined in her letter to the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama dated November 12th 2015.

“It is also my opinion that since the questionably elected management board confirmed Mr Rabuka as leader against the wishes of the elected Leader of the Opposition- the party leader and management board have taken full advantage of the amended constitution which they brought with them which has greatly reduced the independence and powers of the Leader of the Opposition to one of almost a figure head while the un-elected and un-mandated officials of the party call the shots.

“There has effectively been a political coup within that party to override the votes and voice of those who elected their members to make very important decisions for them.

“Given the ongoing internal conflict within SODELPA, I believe that Ro Teimumu will have to continue to balance her loyalty to the 49,000 voters and loyal supporters who voted her in (by remaining in parliament, working for them) with the direction and demands of the new party leadership”

Adi Litia Qionibaravi, SODELPA’s general secretary, last night dismissed Mr Beddoes’ allegation. She said Mr Rabuka’s nomination had nothing to do with the party. It was between Ro Teimumu and the caucus. She questioned why Mr Beddoes was talking about SODELPA when he had resigned from the party.

Adi Litia was the chief architect of the amended constitution which introduced sweeping changes in the party. It was designed to lift the party’s profile and position SODELPA to defeat FijiFirst.

Among the new provisions are the strengthening of the powers of the president and the accountability clause for the party leader. The party leader is mandated to step down if the party loses the general election.

A group led by Mr Beddoes and Ro Teimumu fought hard against the fast tracking of the amended constitution. But they were outvoted as the reformers and their supporters had the majority to push through the document.

The move is understood to have been influenced by the controversial Gaunavinaka Report which split the party right down the middle. The report was critical of Ro Teimumu’s leadership and the Opposition Office.

The party later conducted an internal inquiry and everyone was pardoned. But not everyone was happy with the process and the outcome and it left a sour taste that today still haunts the party.

The other major unresolved issue was the caucus decision to vote for a Government motion to increase the allowance, defying a directive from the president, suspended MP, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu. Ratu Naiqama wanted the caucus to vote against the motion because people were still recovering from Tropical Cyclone Winston.

Ro Teimumu knows that she has to tow the party line under the new arrangement and it was not what she had envisaged.

To make matters worse, the man she originally did not support because of his coup involvement now leads the party. So she is going to ride out the remainder of her term before she quits politics.

She has been through a lot. But she may still have the last laugh.

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