Analysis: Pio Tikoduadua’s Lack of Understanding of How Parties Work Shows Through Now
The resignation of then FijiFirst Member of Parliament Dr Neil Sharma from Parliament for voting against Government was based on a tradition practised in other democracies.
Australian, New Zealand and Fijian Parliaments have a long history of MPs casting their votes on party lines.
What Dr Sharma did was rare. Strict party discipline dictated that he resign.
His lack of understanding of this Parliamentary caucus rule, designed to preserve party unity, saw Pio Tikoduadua intervene and seek a reprieve for Dr Sharma in 2015. He failed.
He was then Leader of Government Business in Parliament and Minister for Infrastructure. We now know he says he later resigned from Parliament and FijiFirst over the issue although he gave a different reason at the time. He said then he resigned for health reasons.
Although he said it wasn’t the right time, he would have created more impact on the credibility front if he had given both issues as his reasons.
If and when Mr Tikoduadua returns to Parliament, he would learn that there may be times when MPs could be allowed to cast conscience votes.
This is what is known as a conscience vote.
The party would have to approve it before the vote. That did not happen in 2015. It was a rare event when Dr Sharma went on his own.
Such actions are also rare in Australia due to the strong party discipline exercised on members of Parliament. Defiance of the party position can affect a member’s career.
Conscience vote or free vote decisions in Westminster Parliaments is a political party decision and is not a subject on which the Speaker can be asked to rule. The free vote can apply to one party, more than one party or all parties represented in the Parliament.
Again the strong party discipline rule plays a crucial role in Parliament.
If every vote is a conscience vote it could create chaos in a party. In the case of the FijiFirst Government, it would undermine its capability to push through Bills and motions.
If Dr Sharma was pardoned, it would have set a precedent that the FijiFirst might live to regret later.
It could open the floodgates on similar conscience votes and things would get out of control.
Complaining against the alleged conduct of the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on this issue, two years later, is a cheap political shot.
Mr Bainimarama and Mr Sayed-Khaiyum are the FijiFirst Party’s two key officers.
Mr Tikoduadua was clearly bogged down by sentimental reasons over reality.
The real test whether Mr Tikoduadua and the National Federation Party, which he has now joined, are genuine, is whether they will allow their MPs to vote on their conscience and not on party lines.
Edited by Caroline Ratucadra