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Analysis: Rabuka Moves to Stamp His Mark as Undisputed Leader

Sitiveni Rabuka’s acquittal in court yesterday has altered the political dynamics within SODELPA. Those who dislike the party leader were hoping that he would lose his case and open the
27 Oct 2018 13:16
Analysis: Rabuka Moves to Stamp His Mark as Undisputed Leader
Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) leader Sitiveni Rabuka (right), with party supporter, Anita Ranjani outside court in Suva on October 17, 2018. Photo: Ronald Kumar

Sitiveni Rabuka’s acquittal in court yesterday has altered the political dynamics within SODELPA.

Those who dislike the party leader were hoping that he would lose his case and open the door for a leadership battle that has been brewing for a while.

There are still senior members who are prepared to fill in the role in the event that Mr Rabuka vacates it.

His court victory has consolidated Mr Rabuka’s hold on the leadership. It has delighted his supporters particularly from the Vanua Levu bloc and eased their campaign to keep him there.

The bloc has been wary of Ro Teimumu Kepa’s influence and following.

If Mr Rabuka had lost the case and the party leadership, the Opposition leader would have stepped in seamlessly to assume the role.

Only one person stood in her way –  SODELPA president, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu.

In the September Nawanawa, Nadera, special general meeting Ratu Naiqama was given authority via a constitutional amendment to appoint a deputy leader for seven days after which the management board would review the appointment and decide the next line of action.

He could even assume the role while the management board looked for a substantive appointee.

While the provision is still there, that will not happen now as the party focuses on the election.

The deputy leader battle, if allowed to go ahead, will muddy the waters for SODELPA.

Less distraction will enable the party to focus on trying to win the election – including getting rival groups to work together behind Mr Rabuka.

At an earlier stage of this campaign a petition was being circulated among SODELPA members of Parliament and provisional candidates to support Mr Rabuka as leader after the election, win or lose. It is not clear who signed it and how many did.

What has emerged is that some did not sign it. Some in the party have questioned whether that move is constitutional. Does the petition override the constitutional provision on this issue?

What if Ro Teimumu wins more votes than Mr Rabuka?

These are questions that need to be answered.

If SODELA does not have the numbers to form a government, the constitutional provision will kick in. That means Mr Rabuka steps down as party leader.

For him to remain as leader SODELPA must win and he becomes Prime Minister. Mr Rabuka is leading  Ro Teimumu in the Sun News Polls on the back of a strong campaign so far.

She cannot be written off yet. On Wednesday she launched her first big campaign rally at Navuloa Methodist Church in Naulu, near Nausori.

She drew a big crowd. Mick Beddoes and Pita Waqavonovono, two close loyal supporters who defected to HOPE because they did not like Mr Rabuka, were there too. They are back with her, not necessarily with Mr Rabuka.

If they can help her win more votes than Mr Rabuka and convince party members that she should regain the role she lost because of a party constitutional change, then they would have achieved their mission.

The change is that if a party loses an election, the party leader automatically loses his position.

Preliminary reports indicate that Mr Rabuka’s acquittal and his public appearances in pocket meetings and the media and his seemingly conciliatory position on a number of issues like national debt and race, have helped his public poll standing.

His recent utterances are part of a new strategy.

Despite his lead in the poll, his camp is still wary of Ro Teimumu.

She could narrow the gap in the remaining days.

She still has a point to prove – that forcing her to relinquish the party leadership through a constitutional change – was wrong.

Her supporters have not forgotten that she was dragged through the mud in the controversial Gaunavinaka Report, reportedly orchestrated from within the Vanua Levu block, and suffered the indiginity.  She wants to prove that she still has her support.

Her supporters want her to show it. That’s why she put on hold her retirement plans to contest this election.

But in Rewa she faces her nephew, Ratu Filipe Tuisawau. It’s unusual that they are from the same party because he will split the votes.

Their rivalry is not new. They were up against each other in the 2006 general election, Ro Teimumu standing for SDL, Ro Filipe contesting as an independent.

This time Ro Filipe will do Mr Rabuka a big favour – reduce Ro Teimumu’s votes. The contest is shaping up to be a battle between the provinces, Rewa on one hand and Cakaudrove, Bua and Macuata, on the other. Ro Teimumu is the Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi or paramount chief of Rewa.

Mr Rabuka’s greatest supporter is Ratu Naiqama, the Tui Cakau, paramount chief of Cakaudrove.

In the next two weeks before the poll, Mr Rabuka wants to build a momentum that will carry him to the November 14 poll and settle once and for all that he is the undisputed leader of SODELPA. 

Edited by Ranoba Baoa

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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