Caucus Defies Party

This is not the first time that caucus has defied a party directive. The precedent was set in 2016.
09 Dec 2020 11:07
Caucus Defies Party
Leader of the Opposition Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu in the Opposition Chambers on December 8, 2020. Photo: Ronald Kumar

SODELPA’s parliamentary caucus yesterday defied a party directive and voted for Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu as the new Opposition leader.

The directive was for MPs to support party leader Viliame Gavoka.

In a surprise move, Ro Teimumu Kepa, who belongs to the rival moderates camp and had backed Mr Gavoka, changed her position and supported Ratu Naiqama who got 14 votes.
Mr Gavoka polled five votes. Opposition Whip Lynda Tabuya did not vote because she conducted the proceedings.  Ro Teimumu reportedly said it would not look good if the party was split in Parliament when people were watching on television.

In a letter addressed to Ms Tabuya and Deputy Whip Aseri Radrodro and MPs, president Ratu Epenisa Cakobau referred to Section 78(2) of the Constitution of Fiji and said “it is only logical that the party and the caucus rally behind and endorse Hon Viliame Gavoka as the leader of the Opposition.”

Ratu Epenisa listed three reasons why Mr Gavoka should be Opposition leader:

1) Mr Gavoka is one of the longest and senior members of the party;

2) He already is the party leader and we are 18 months away from the 2022 General Elections and to have Hon Gavoka as the leader of the Opposition gearing our party towards the 2022 election; and

3) Precedents have been set with previous party leaders within SODELPA and caucus becoming the leader of the Opposition in the case of Ro Teimumu and Mr Rabuka.

There was a veiled warning if MPs didn’t toe the line. Ratu Epenisa said: “ I wish to bring to your attention to Section 63 of the Constitution of Fiji on members who vote contrary to any direction issued by the political party.” Basically it says the party has the power to expel members who defy party directives.

“Members I urge you all that we need to unite for the sake of our voters and supporters. I trust that this request will be endorsed and accepted by you all.”

This is not the first time that caucus has defied a party directive. The precedent was set in 2016.

It’s ironical that Ratu Naiqama, then president, had sent a written directive to the caucus to oppose a Government motion for an increase in parliamentary sitting allowance for attendance at Standing Committee meetings. He said it was insensitive to ask for an allowance increase when some people were still living in tents after Tropical Cyclone Winston.

But the caucus under then Opposition leader Ro Teimumu defied the directive and voted for the motion because they needed extra funds to fulfil their constituency obligations.

After weighing the historical interactions between party HQ and caucus, Ratu Epenisa was singing a different tune yesterday afternoon.

He issued a statement congratulating Ratu Naiqama.

He said: “The party looks forward to the Leader of the Opposition working closely with the party leader, Hon. Viliame Gavoka as we prepare towards the 2022 General Elections.

“With a new Leader of Opposition and a new Opposition Member to be sworn in, the party will continue to fulfil our role as an effective Opposition in Parliament.”  >Nemani Delaibatiki

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