Analysis | Politics

Do Big Three Have Enough Clout To Save Suspended SODELPA?

Analysis: When the country’s three paramount chiefs meet we need to take note. While it was touted as a meeting to sort out Vanua (traditional) issues, it is understood that
02 Jun 2020 16:19
Do Big Three Have Enough Clout To Save Suspended SODELPA?
L-R: Opposition Member of Parliament Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, Opposition Member of Parliament Ro Teimumu Kepa and Ratu Epenisa Cakobau

Analysis:

When the country’s three paramount chiefs meet we need to take note.

While it was touted as a meeting to sort out Vanua (traditional) issues, it is understood that the objective was to bring some clarity to the age-old question of chiefs or Vanua versus politics.

Their meeting in Lami on Saturday was low key and many only knew about it when they read Ro Teimumu Kepa’s Facebook post later.

There was a photo of the Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi, paramount chief of Rewa and Burebasaga Confederacy, Ro Teimumu, and Bau Chief Ratu Epenisa Cakobau, the leading candidate as the apparent heir to the controversial Vunivalu title of the Kubuna Confederacy on their way to meet Ratu Naiqama.

This meeting was interesting because Ratu Epenisa and Ro Teimumu are members of the Vijay Singh faction of suspended SODELPA that met at the Holiday Inn Suva.

Ratu Naiqama was elected president of the rival group that met at the Kshatriya Hall.

Both groups failed to meet the constitutional requirements and the party was subsequently suspended for 60 days to remedy all the breaches.

The suspended party should show cause why it should not be deregistered.

With the chiefs on opposite sides of the internal bickering did their meeting purely discuss Vanua matters?

Could they have practised the doctrine of the separation of powers, leaving aside their political differences and focussing on the Vanua?

Over the years the line that is drawn between the chiefs/Vanua and politics has been blurred when some chiefs used their traditional influence to garner support.

But chiefly status does not always translate to political support in an election.

Both Ro Teimumu and Ratu Naiqama have had this experience.

Ro Teimumu polled 49,485 votes in the 2014 General Election when she was party leader.  Ratu Naiqama scored  6668.

In the 2018 election, Ro Teimumu polled 6036, a significant drop in her political support.

Her losing the party leadership role was the major contributing factor.  Her power base in the Central Division collected 2595 compared to 29,608 in 2014.

Ratu Naiqama scored 2165, again a big drop from his performance in 2014.

In his Northern stronghold, he scored 5462 in 2014 and 769 in 2018.

Can they still use their traditional influence to resurrect whatever is left of suspended SODELPA?

It’s difficult to imagine them making a difference given the depth of division in the suspended party.

Voters, election results show, no longer vote on traditional lines. They are able to separate politics from the chiefs and the Vanua.

Many party supporters have also woken up to the reality that the suspended party has had serious governance problems, no amount of cajoling through the use of old-style of politics will easily influence  them to stick to the old regime,

The game-changer for them was the landmark High Court ruling that last year’s annual general meeting was invalid and the suspension of the party for governance breaches.

Many supporters have emphatically stated in the past two elections that they want leadership they can trust.  And they are not about to change direction soon.

So for the three chiefs, they may need to go with the flow – to follow the constitution of the suspended party.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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