Politics

Factions Heading For A Showdown On Saturday

The campaigns are aimed at gathering support before the management board meeting in Suva on Saturday to charter the way forward for the party in preparation for 2022. But first, the members must decide who should be in the leadership team.
20 May 2020 13:20
Factions Heading For A Showdown On Saturday
From Top left: Lynda Tabuya, SODELPA vice president Vijay Singh and caretake party leader Sitiveni Rabuka. From Bottom left: Adi Litia Qionibaravi, Ro Filipe Tuisawau and Usaia Waqatairewa.

Analysis:

The SODELPA internal contest for power is beginning to resemble the primary battle in the United States presidential election.

Before the party faces FijiFirst in the 2022 General Election, rival factions are going through the intense campaign in the battleground provinces, where swing voters are located. Provinces identified are Tailevu (South and North), Nadroga, Naitasiri, Rewa and the West.

The campaigns are aimed at gathering support before the management board meeting in Suva on Saturday to charter the way forward for the party in preparation for 2022. But first, the members must decide who should be in the leadership team.

Leadership

At the moment, it is generally known that Vijay Singh is acting president. He is the only remaining official (vice-president) untainted by the botched annual general meeting at Yaroi Village, in Savusavu in June last year.

One group backing the ousted president Ro Filipe Tuisawau, general secretary Usaia Waqatairewa and vice-president Adi Litia Qionibaravi, has been calling for the removal of Mr Singh because he allowed the vote in the Working Committee meeting to suspend the recalled Adi Litia as general secretary, pending investigations into conduct allegations against her on some governance issues.

Adi Litia has challenged that decision and the issue will come to a head-on Saturday when her case and Mr Singh’s position will be decided. That will be D-Day – a make or break time for the party.

Mr Singh is in a unique position. He is the first Indo-Fijian to be leading a predominantly iTaukei party and the party could use him as an example that it embraces a multiracial philosophy as it often says in its political rhetoric.

If he is replaced, then it could send a wrong message that the party is indeed racist. That’s the dilemma facing the party right now.

Popular Opposition Whip Lynda Tabuya is also a target. She is perceived to be backing her former People’s Democratic Party president when she was PDP leader.

Both joined SODELPA under a deal struck between party leader Sitiveni Rabuka and Ms Tabuya. It was endorsed by the party hierarchy and the Management Board although some questioned the speed in which they were brought in.

Ms Tabuya proved her worth in the 2018 election and vindicated the faith that Mr Rabuka had in her. She scored the second-highest party votes after Mr Rabuka.

But she is now being seen as a threat by those aspiring to lead the party.

Rabuka – on shaky ground

Mr Rabuka is in a precarious position because the more he plays the role of peacemaker, the more he becomes alienated from the centre of the action.

The message that is coming out loud and clear is that the party needs decisive leadership. And that could mean taking a painful decision, but one that could steer the party in the right course. He wants to lead the party into the 2022 election by uniting the two factions. But that is proving to be an impossible mission.

The very people whom he would depend on, Ro Filipe, Mr Waqatairewa and Adi Litia, have defied his directive to drop the appeal against a High Court judgment that ruled that last year’s AGM was null and void and the trio’s election was invalid. Mr Rabuka wanted to minimise the collateral damage to the party. That remains an elusive dream given the political fallout from the standoff between the trio’s supporters and the disgruntled group that fought them in court and won.

The gulf gets wider and wider and the meeting this Saturday is building up to be a showdown.

Any attempt to play it down is being drowned by not only what is being shared on social media, but what is actually happening on the ground.

In one battleground, one group is campaigning against Mr Singh and Ms Tabuya. The group sympathises with the trio who are backed by the Cakaudrove-Bua-Macuata bloc, which was responsible in voting them in during last year’s AGM.

So the battle for support is concentrated in Viti Levu. The focus is mainly on the Lami-Suva-Nasinu-Nausori corridor, roping in Rewa, Tailevu and Naitasiri – three big contributors to SODELPA support.

Within the party support, Ms Tabuya looks to have sewn up the Nasinu electorate, the most densely populated. It is a bit of a mystery how the Saturday meeting is going to pan out.

Because of the restrictions on mass gathering, it is said that there will be three venues, with 20 attending each, zooming in on the meeting from where the officials conducting the proceedings are located. If Mr Singh’s position is safe, then he will be zooming in from Australia.

FICAC probe another issue

If this is not enough headache for Mr Rabuka, he has one more contentious issue to deal with.

Members of the party’s Women’s Forum have petitioned him to act on those implicated if any, in the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption investigations into claims that some Members of Parliament had allegedly made false claims on parliamentary allowances.

They have asked him to take his cue from FijiFirst, which has asked all its MPs to disclose their details on accommodation and travel. They say that SODELPA must be seen to be taking a proactive role. Otherwise, it could be perceived as sweeping the matter under the carpet. The women say they understand that people are innocent until proven guilty. They add that while investigations are continuing, the suspects should be stood down.

This issue is expected to be added to the list of issues that will be discussed.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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