Opinion | Politics

Chiefs’ Mana Works Its Magic In Achieving Consensus At Election Of SODELPA Officials

But can it be translated into strengthening party support for the 2022 General Election?
27 Jul 2020 14:56
Chiefs’ Mana Works Its Magic In Achieving Consensus At Election Of SODELPA Officials
From left: Opposition whip Lynda Tabuya and the newly-elected SODELPA party president Ratu Epenisa Cakobau with party supporters at the Special General Meeting at the Novotel Convention Centre on July 25, 2020. Photo: Inoke Rabonu


The chiefs’ mana was in full display at SODELPA’s Special General Meeting on Saturday.

The moment the Tui Cakau, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu withdrew to make way for Bau Chief Ratu Epenisa Cakobau as the unopposed new president, something remarkable was about to happen.

Then it was Ro Teimumu Kepa’s turn. She said words to the effect, while the floor was open for three vice presidents’ nominations, that now that Kubuna held the president post, two vice-presidents could go to Burebasaga and Tovata. Other nominees withdrew when Ratu Naiqama and Ro Teimumu were proposed as vice-presidents. They were unopposed also.

Ratu Epenisa is the heir to the Vunivalu title, the paramount chief of the Kubuna Confederacy (comprising Tailevu, Naitasiri, Ra and Lomaiviti). Ro Teimumu, the Roko Tui Dreketi, is the paramount chief of Rewa and Burebasaga Confederacy (comprising Rewa, Namosi, Serua, Nadroga, Nadi, Lautoka, Ba and Tavua, Kadavu and Beqa),

Ratu Naiqama, the Tui Cakau, is the paramount chief of Cakaudrove and the Tovata Confederacy (comprising Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Lau and other islands in the North). The only contested vice president post was won by Rakiraki businessman George Shiu Raj, the only Indo-Fijian in the party leadership.

Targeting Vijay Singh

Vijay Singh, who had led the party out of suspension, did not figure in the elections. He was targeted by Ratu Naiqama’s conservative right-wingers for leading the moderates. He could have been sitting as the second Indo-Fijian vice-president and really bolster the party’s attempt to project a multiracial image. Was it because he was still in Australia or would it have been too much for those extremists who wanted Mr Singh out of the party because they could not accept an Indo-Fijian leading a predominantly iTaukei party.

For now, Mr Shiu Raj’s inclusion will remain as a token appointment although he has been with SODELPA from day one.

The election outcome showed that open respect for the chiefs is intact. But the same cannot be said when it comes the ballot box or social media. iTaukei voters have now mastered the art of separating politics and their traditional allegiance to their chiefs.

One thing they will not do is to publicly oppose their chiefs like they showed on Saturday. Many delegates had things to say but once the chiefs spoke they quietened down. That’s the vakavanua (traditional) way.

Paradox of Fijian politics

But is it good in the long run? In the context of democracy, we are encouraged to speak out and express our opinions. Self-censorship and curtailment of freedom are contrary to democratic principles. The Saturday show is the paradox of Fijian politics.

While the chiefly system is used from time to time for political convenience, it came in handy on Saturday. It defused what could have been an explosive situation.

Both the moderates and the right-wingers were prepared for a showdown that could have turned ugly.

Now that the country’s three highest chiefs are fully engaged in politics, will they be able to get the two warring factions together permanently and bury their differences.

It’s early days yet. Will the right-wingers respect Ratu Epenisa’s conciliatory approach to unify the two factions and reach out to the other races?


He reminds those in the older generation of his father, the late Ratu Sir George Cakobau who was the first local Governor-General of Fiji. He was living in retirement when the 1987 military coups happened. He was apparently upset because he opposed the overthrow of the democratically elected Government of Prime Minister, the late Dr Timoci Bavadra.

In fact he was not the only chief that opposed it. But they were swamped by the majority of chiefs who went along with the flow.

When coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka went to the then Great Council of Chiefs to endorse his Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei Party, the late Adi Lady Lala Mara, elder sister of Ro Teimumu, opposed it.

She wanted the GCC to stay separate from politics. Again she was overwhelmed by her male counterparts.

So a lot of party members, including those who were locked out on Saturday are banking on Ratu Epenisa to steer the party away from the old practices that were inconsistent with governance principles of transparency and accountability.

That will be his big test.


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