Analysis | Politics

Putting The Contest For New Party Leader Into Its Proper Perspective

A tell tale sign that a new leader is needed was Mr Rabuka’s conduct in the events before and after the party’s suspension. People were going along with him when he talked about the need for unity and solidarity.
13 Jul 2020 10:39
Putting The Contest For New Party Leader Into Its Proper Perspective
SODELPA caretaker party leader Sitiveni Rabuka

Analysis:

The Party Leader role is the crowning glory in SODELPA’s internal battle for power to control the party.

That is why all eyes are on the contest that will be decided and announced at the next General Assembly (annual general meeting) in Suva either in October or November.

Whoever gets the nod will lead SODELPA into the 2022 General Election.

Caretaker party leader Sitiveni Rabuka has put his hand up and declared his intention to retain the post. But there is an increasing chorus of opposition among the rank and file that is advocating a fresh new face and a possible rebranding of the SODELPA message to embrace a wider cross section of the electorate.

A tell tale sign that a new leader is needed was Mr Rabuka’s conduct in the events before and after the party’s suspension. People were going along with him when he talked about the need for unity and solidarity.

But they changed their mind when he decided to support the Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu’s conservative right wing whose members who controlled the party were ousted in an election showdown at the Management Board meeting.

Special treatment for Rabuka

Instead of showing his neutrality his shift to the right has seriously damaged his chances of being reappointed.

At any rate, why is he being given a special treatment after he lost the 2018 General Election?

The party constitution explicitly says that after the party loses an election, the Party Leader is deemed to have stepped down. It means he or she automatically loses the role. There is no provision that he or she can stand again as party leader.

This had happened to Ro Teimumu Kepa in 2016. She was forced to step down after the constitution was amended  to say that the party leader would automatically lose the role in the event of an election loss.

She lost the 2014 election and therefore had to go. That was the understanding based on the reading of the constitution.

Now the tune has changed. It has been argued that because the constitution is silent on having a second go for the position, Mr Rabuka can recontest.

Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of the provision? In fact it makes a mockery of the constitution. When a leader loses an election, he or she makes way for a new leader. That’s the intention. Isn’t it?

Ro Teimumu lost an election, she made way for Mr Rabuka.

Now Mr Rabuka should make way for a successor. He may have gained six extra seats for the party in Parliament but still fell short. He lost the election and that’s the bottom line.

If he is  allowed to enter the contest again without any substantive amendment to the constitution then this whole shenanigan can be likened to that famous passage from George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm. It says: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

It refers to the hypocrisy of an organisation that proclaims the absolute equality of its members, but gives power and privileges to a small elite.

If the new party administrators allow Mr Rabuka to continue then they are just as bad their predecessors and all this talk about good governance is a farce.

Need to follow constitution

SODELPA needs to strictly follow its constitution if it is serious about making a difference. It is under the microscope because it parades itself as the alternative government. When it lacks the moral courage to make the right change it will undermine its credibility.

Good governance aside, there is absolutely no guarantee that Mr Rabuka can win the 2022 election for SODELPA.

He should have won the 2018 election but he didn’t. Under his watch, the election campaign strategy was changed in the final weeks of the campaign. It was the turning point and the party lost because it failed to stick to a constituency-based approach. As a result, some sitting Members of Parliament lost their seats. Those seats could have been enough to carry SODELPA across the line to victory.

The affected disgruntled members raised their concerns with the party. But they were dissatisfied with the response that they took the party and its officials to court and won.

The landmark Civil High Court decision highlighted governance issues and ruled that the General Assembly held at Yaroi Village, Savusavu, last year was null and void. The election of officials was invalid.

With new officials now in charge they cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes.

There is argument that Mr Rabuka is the main attraction and highest vote getter in SODELPA. As long as he is Party Leader he will get the attraction in the same way as Prime Minister Voreqe Baininarama, National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad and Unity Fiji leader Savenaca Narube do under the DHondt electoral system.

Ro Teimumu got the highest vote for SODELPA as Party Leader in the 2014 election. She polled 49,485 votes. But in 2018, she only polled 6036.

If Mr Rabuka was popular, why didn’t he go and form his party in 2014 after he was refused entry into SODELPA by the women and the youth?

Why didn’t he join his friend and ally Filimoni Vosarogo in Fiji One Party?

He knew that SODELPA was the only party that had the support and the real chance of forming the Government because the late Laisenia Qarase had structured the party to be grassroot-based.

This was conveniently forgotten in 2018 and underlined the serious split in the party post election.

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