ANALYSIS: Spotlight On Ratu Naiqama In SODELPA Leadership Battle

Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu will face intense scrutiny from within SODELPA if he throws in his hat for the party leader contest. The focus on the November 14 General Election has
05 Nov 2018 10:00
ANALYSIS: Spotlight On Ratu Naiqama In SODELPA  Leadership Battle
SODELPA president Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu.

Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu will face intense scrutiny from within SODELPA if he throws in his hat for the party leader contest.

The focus on the November 14 General Election has not shut out members’ thoughts about the leadership issue.

On November 12, party leader Sitiveni Rabuka will know whether he can still stand for the election.

That’s when Chief Justice Anthony Gates will deliver his ruling on a Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) appeal against Mr Rabuka’s acquittal.

Mr Rabuka was acquitted by the Suva Magistrates Court on charges relating to his declaration of assets and liabilities.

If he loses his case, he won’t be able to lead SODELPA into the election.

Someone would have to be chosen to replace Mr Rabuka. And that could be Ratu Naiqama, given the fact that he already has a special general meeting mandate to appoint a deputy leader or acting leader for seven days before a substantative appointment is made.

He could even appoint himself with the concurrence of the working committee, which is a surrogate of the management board. There is virtually little or no time left to advertise and call for applications, process them and convene a meeting to pick a new leader.

More names are now being bandied about other than Ratu Naiqama, whom he can consider to act as leader.

They include former MP Viliame Gavoka, senior vice-president Anare Jale, Ro Teimumu Kepa, Salote Radrodro (SODELPA Whip), Adi Litia Qionibaravi (general secretary) and Vijay Singh (vice-president).

In the younger ranks and waiting on the wings are lawyer Kitione Vuataki, former MP Aseri Radrodro and Rewa chief Ro Filipe Tuisawau.

There is concern internally that the role should not look like it had just been passed on from Mr Rabuka to his chief, the Tui Cakau (paramount chief of Cakaudrove), Ratu Naiqama.

This would smack of nepotism, one member said.

There is a suggestion that whoever takes SODELPA through the election will be in an acting position.

If SODELPA loses, the acting appointee will lose the position anyway, as the party constitution stipulates. If it wins, there should be a meeting of all the elected MPs to decide who should be Prime Minister.


Ratu Naiqama’s record will come under examination.

 In April, 2005 Ratu Naiqama and then Senator Ratu Josefa Dimuri were released from prison after serving 10 days of their eight-month sentence to serve the rest extramurally. They were convicted of unlawful assembly in relation to a takeover of the Sukanaivalu Barracks in Labasa at the height of the 2000 political crisis during George Speight’s coup. They were members of the pro-indigenous party, the Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua (CAMV).

 In the 2001 election CAMV joined Laisenia Qarase’s SDL party for a coalition after winning six seats. Mr Qarase went ahead and appointed Ratu Naiqama Minister for Lands despite a call by then Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama as Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces not to appoint Ratu Naiqama because of his conviction.

 It is understood this was one of the reasons that led to the takeover in 2006.

 Under his watch as Minister for Lands, Ratu Naiqama had signed the approval for the conversion of native land to Crown (state) land to freehold land in Momi and Denarau.

 Ratu Naiqama was suspended from the last Parliament for derogatory remarks against the Speaker, Dr Jiko Luveni.

 While he was suspended, he wrote to SODELPA’s parliamentary caucus, instructing them to vote against the motion to increase parliamentary sitting allowances. He said it would look bad in the wake of Cyclone Winston with people still living in tents. The caucus defied his directive.

 When he returned to Parliament, he accepted the increases in his parliamentary allowances.

 He said he would retire from politics, but changed his mind to stand in the election even though his son, Ratu Dr Antonio Lalalabalavu, is one of the candidates. It is believed to be the first time that a father and son are standing from the same party.

 It is also believed that he did it because Ro Teimumu had earlier announced she would put her retirement on hold and contest the election.

So Ratu Naiqama has a number of questions to clear before he can become party leader.




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