Editorial | Opinion

Rabuka Preparing For Leadership Challenge

Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka is preparing for a possible leadership challenge. When he told a SODELPA pocket meeting in Vatuwaqa in June that he would be the Opposition leader if
24 Jul 2018 12:14
Rabuka Preparing For Leadership Challenge
SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka

Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka is preparing for a possible leadership challenge.

When he told a SODELPA pocket meeting in Vatuwaqa in June that he would be the Opposition leader if the party lost the general election, he knew what he was talking about.

He knows there are party members who do not like him as party leader because of his 1987 coup involvement.

In the 2014 general election Ro Teimumu Kepa was party leader and went on to become Opposition leader after SODELPA lost the election.

The transition from party leader to Opposition leader was a logical progression and was part of a convention and party policy. The endorsement of the party’s members of Parliament was a mere formality.

But that changed when the party amended its constitution a few years ago. Among the prominent changes was a new provision that the party leader automatically loses his or her leadership when the party loses an election.

Ro Teimumu became the first casualty of the change. She relinquished her party leader role.

Mr Rabuka told the Vatuwaqa meeting that even if another candidate polled more than him, he would still lead the party by virtue of his position as party leader.

But that won’t apply if the party loses the election. He will no longer be party leader.

How can then he become the Opposition leader?

Scenario 1: He gets the majority support in the party’s parliamentary caucus. The party respects the caucus decision. The process is in harmony with the Standing Orders of Parliament.

Scenario 2: The party directs the caucus to nominate Mr Rabuka as Opposition leader. The caucus complies. As long as the caucus recommends his name then it also complies with the Standing Orders of Parliament.

Scenario 3: The most problematic. If the party and the caucus disagree on scenarios 2 & 3, then what happens next?

The party has set precedents in the past.

Precedent 1: The party directed the caucus to endorse Salote Radrodro as party whip and Mosese Bulitavu as deputy whip. The position of deputy whip is now vacant after Bulitavu was jailed for sedition. There was no prior discussion on the candidates for the roles. If there was a secret ballot conducted to elect the holders, the result might have been different. But because the posts do not carry any monetary value, the MPs allowed Mrs Radrodro and Bulitavu to take up the posts.

Could the same process be followed when recommending the next Opposition leader? It has to comply with The Parliamentary Standing Orders which stipulate that the nominee must have the majority support of the caucus. There is no mention of the party. What happens behind the scene is an internal party matter between the party and caucus.

Where it becomes messy is if the MPs refuse to follow the party directive. This is discussed in Precedent 2.

Precedent 2: In 2016, the caucus defied a directive from the party, signed by president Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, to oppose a motion for increased allowances for MPs. But they voted in favour of the motion.

In his letter to all party MPs, Ratu Naiqama said: “A vote in support of increases in allowances at a time when those affected by the ravages of TC Winston are still living in tents, school children are still attending schools in makeshift leaking classrooms, the continuing relative low wage rates across the board as well as the increasing cost of living, is inappropriate.”

There was debate then over whether that was his personal view or party position. In the end, no action was taken against the MPs, even though the party has the power to discipline and even expel rebels.

In Mr Rabuka’s case, if the party directed the caucus to nominate him as Opposition leader, the MPs can disagree and nominate another MP of their choice.

It would test the party constitution against the Standing Orders of Parliament. The party can only direct the caucus if it has the courage to do it.

Ratu Naiqama issued a party directive. That’s where he ended. The caucus did the rest.

The party will also be in the same position on the nomination of the Opposition leader.

The caucus will have the final say, just like it did in the two precedents. It’s up to the party to decide what action to take if the MPs defy its directive.

But the party will think carefully about the implications of any disciplinary action.

If one or more MPs are disciplined or expelled from the party for rebellion how would such an action impact the party as a whole.

MPs who are expelled by the party automatically lose their seats.

Given this background, the SODELPA MPs wield a lot of power if they remain united on issues.

From Mr Rabuka’s perspective, he would like to see more MPs personally supporting him as leader.

From the provisional candidate list, the following are some of those understood to be on his side: Lynda Tabuya, Tanya Waqanika, Niko Nawaikula, Anare Vadei, Ratu Isoa Tikoca, Adi Litia Qionibaravi, Kitione Vuetaki, Nemani Bulitavu, Ratu Atonio Lalabalavu, George Shiu Raj, Reverend John Kata, Joape Koroisavou and Peceli Rinakama.

As a veteran political campaigner, Mr Rabuka is consolidating his position in preparation for the day of his reckoning – when he will face that leadership challenge.

Details will become clearer in the weeks ahead.

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj



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