Analysis: Rabuka’s Predicament

Sitiveni Rabuka’s political comeback faces a major setback. With all the years he has amassed in political experience since he carried out the country’s first military coup in 1987, he
23 May 2018 11:05
Analysis: Rabuka’s Predicament
SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka and Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa. Photos: Ronald Kumar

Sitiveni Rabuka’s political comeback faces a major setback.

With all the years he has amassed in political experience since he carried out the country’s first military coup in 1987, he knows he faces the inevitable.

That is SODELPA will lose the election to FijiFirst and as a result he will lose his party leadership as the party constitution dictates.

While FijiFirst has been polling well ahead of the closest party, SODELPA, ac­cording to the Fiji Sun-Razor opinion poll, Mr Rabuka’s other biggest challenge is Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa.

Their differences over the issue of Fi­jian as a common name have reopened old wounds.

If both win seats and SODELPA becomes the majority party in Opposition what is not clear is who will be the Opposition leader.

Will Mr Rabuka become the automatic choice even though he ceases to become party leader? Or will Ro Teimumu retain her job because of her experience? Will SODELPA as party or MPs in a caucus choose their leader?

Mr Rabuka realizes he has a tough hill to climb. It’s his last throw of the dice and he is giving it all he has got in the hope that there will be a miracle and he is elected Prime Minister for the second time.

He has no illusion about his formida­ble challenge to unseat Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and his FijiFirst Government in this election.

Mr Rabuka won’t be surprised if Mr Bainimarama is returned to power in this election. He has said before he wants to position SODELPA for the subsequent elections.

His biggest challenge right now is Ro Teimumu. From the beginning, Ro Teimumu had been hostile to Mr Rabuka because of his 1987 coup involvement. She had publicly spoken about her position on coups.

It did not help when she was forced out as party leader after a constitutional change and Mr Rabuka was elected to replace her.

The Vanua Levu bloc which had played a prominent role in the change had also been linked to the controversial Gau­navinaka Report. The report was criti­cal of Ro Teimumu’s leadership and the administration of the Opposition office. That split the party right down the mid­dle. While steps were taken to repair the damage, they were merely token attempts because everyone was pardoned to try to appease both sides, bury the hatchet and paint a picture of unity.

Even subsequent attempts for recon­ciliation had not completely healed the wounds. The latest was after a row over the $2 membership fee which involved Ro Teimumu and her Rewan delegates during the controversial special general meeting last December.

The row had broken out after Dona Takalaiyale, Ro Teimumu’s traditional spokesperson and a SODELPA vice-presi­dent, had questioned the election of offic­er bearers process and the party finances. While the issue was finally resolved it left a sour taste in the Ro Teimumu camp, particularly when her election candidacy was also dragged into the debate.

From her camp, particularly among her traditional loyal subjects, they had taken exception to the way she was dealt with internally from day one after the 2014 general election. She was criticised for overlooking her own SODELPA MPs and approaching National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad to be the Finance/Economy spokesperson. The Gaunavina­ka Report was designed to bring her down but she stood her ground and fought back.

The party constitutional change whit­tled down her power. That had a major impact on her and the family. She decided not to contest the 2018 general election. But after being approached by the Vanua of Rewa, she put her retirement plans on hold, to stand for the election.

Now, her supporters want her to prove that she is more popular than Mr Rabuka. They want to see her retain her role as Opposition Leader if SODELPA loses the election.

This is Mr Rabuka’s predicament.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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