Analysis

New Party Leader Could Solve SODELPA’s Leadership Woes

Party needs new, fresh ideas to promote unity. Rabuka should do the honourable thing and emulate the example of Ro Teimumu Kepa
24 Apr 2019 16:14
New Party Leader Could Solve SODELPA’s Leadership Woes
L-R: Opposition Leader Sitiveni Rabuka, Former Oppostion Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa and Former Oppostion Member of Parliament Mere Samisoni

Analysis:

A new leader and new direction?

That question is on the mind of many SODELPA members in the wake of Mere Samisoni’s scathing criticism of the party’s conduct in the 2018 General Election.

Her views are taken seriously and widely respected because of her impressive track record as a businesswoman.

The former MP, a founder of SODELPA and owner/operator of the successful Hot Bread Kitchen chain, said the party had confused voters by telling them to vote for the party if they did not like their local candidates.

Some members said it was a mischievous strategy designed to weed out the local candidates in favour of some senior party officials.

It has been noted that in the 2014 election campaign, then party leader Ro Teimumu Kepa went to the various constituencies but did not use the same strategy. She in fact asked the voters to vote for their local candidates and heavily promoted them.

Some members have asked why the party did not use the same strategy.

Many of the members interviewed were afraid to be identified because they could face reprisals.

They could face disciplinary action if they are guilty of going against party policies and interests.

They are wondering whether Ms Samisoni, an unsuccessful 2018 election candidate, would be disciplined for being outspoken against the party. It is not clear whether anyone in the party has gone through the full disciplinary process.

When MP Mosese Bulitavu spoke out against Ro Teimumu Kepa in her capacity as Opposition leader, members thought he would be disciplined.

He had called for her to resign to allow for an internal investigation after the exposure of the controversial Gaunavinaka Report.

Opposition Member of Parliament  Mosese Bulitavu

Opposition Member of Parliament
Mosese Bulitavu

The report was highly critical of  her  and the Opposition Office administration. A formal complaint was lodged against Mr Bulitavu by her senior administrative officer Mick Beddoes.

But the party ended the process by pardoning both parties. It was a copout designed to maintain party unity. But it failed to resolve the deep-seated differences that still exist today. That dispute split the party and gave rise to a “reformers” movement that pushed for sweeping changes to the party constitution. One of the prominent amendments was that the party leader automatically loses the role if the party fails to win the election.

Halfway through her term in Parliament she had to relinquish her party leader position after her group lost the battle to stop the changes.

The same provision has now come to haunt Mr Rabuka and his Vanua Levu bloc. Mr Rabuka has resigned as party leader but he has indicated that if nominated he is willing to have a second crack.

Some members say he should emulate Ro Teimumu. She did the honourable thing and did not seek re-election.

Anyway, she would not have been able to do it unless the constitution was amended. In its current form the constitution does not say that after stepping down the former post holder can seek re-election. A precedent would be set if the constitution is amended to accommodate Mr Rabuka.

But that will not fix the challenges of factionalism that threatens party unity.

A new broad-minded leader with fresh, new ideas would be the ideal solution to finding lasting party unity.
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