Analysis

The Over 70s Club – Are They Too Old To Be In Politics And Should They Quit?

As long as the mental faculties are excellent and the body can cope with the cut and thrust of life under constant public scrutiny it’s not a problem.
04 Jan 2021 16:33
The Over 70s Club – Are They Too Old To Be In Politics And Should They Quit?
Sitiveni Rabuka, Ro Teimumu Kepa, Mahendra Chaudhry and SODELPA party leader Viliame Gavoka.

In politics, there is no age limit.

As long as the mental faculties are excellent and the body can cope with the cut and thrust of life under constant public scrutiny it’s not a problem.

The age of our politicians is a topic of debate in the social media. Some argue that the older politicians, mostly over 70, should make way for their younger colleagues because we need new and fresh ideas.

Others use the saying “the older the wiser” to defend our senior politicians.

Ro Teimumu Kepa

A member of the “club” Ro Teimumu Kepa was not going to context the 2018 General Election.

But she decided to put her retirement on hold after the Vanua pleaded with her to submit her application for candidacy because they wanted her to represent them in Parliament.

She was followed by then party president Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu.

When the 2022 election happens, presumably in September, Ro Teimumu will be 76 years and nine months old.

Although she has indicated that this could be her last term in Parliament, the changing dynamics in SODELPA could influence her final decision.

In the internal battle for power and control of the party between the moderates and the conservative right wing, Ro Teimumu has been an influential figure for the moderates.

Her presence has been a source of strength and empowerment for president Ratu Epenisa Cakobau, party leader Viliame Gavoka and general secretary Emele Duituturaga. Her only blemish was when she got the moderates MPs in caucus to back right wingers leader Ratu Naiqama in Parliament for the sake of party unity after earlier supporting Mr Gavoka in caucus. Ratu Epenisa wanted Mr Gavoka as Opposition leader.

The moderates would need Ro Teimumu to defend the Rewa electorate against her nephew Ro Filipe Tuisawau from the right wingers.

Because of the splintering of SODELPA the outcome will boil down to a numbers game.

Ro Teimumu would probably like to redeem herself after the caucus botch-up by helping SODELPA in 2022. She is in good physical shape for at least one more election.

Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu

Ratu Naiqama, like he did in 2018, could also follow Ro Teimumu if she decides to stay. He will be 68 years and nine months old by the time of the next election. He is an important member of the conservative right wing. He is its mentor and leader because of his chiefly position as Tui Cakau (Cakaudrove paramount chief) and traditional head of the Tovata Confederacy (Vanua Levu, Taveuni and Lau).

Eventually, he could team up with Sitiveni Rabuka in his new party.

Sitiveni Rabuka

Mr Rabuka is six years older than his chief Ratu Naiqama. He will be 74 during the 2022 election, leading his new party. The proposed name of People’s Alliance has a familiar ring. The key word is Alliance.

The late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara led the Alliance Government in power from Independence in 1970 until 1987 when he was defeated by a Fiji Labour Party-National Federation Party coalition led by Dr Timoci Bavadra.

Mr Rabuka, a military colonel then, overthrew Dr Bavadra, and later became Prime Minister in his Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei with strong emphasis ethno-nationalist ideologies. He tried to revive Ratu Sir Kamisese’s multiracial policies by going into coalition with Jai Ram Reddy’s National Federation Party but the voters rejected them in the 1999 election that saw Mahendra Chaudhry elected as the country’s first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister.

The People’s Alliance is another attempt to recapture the glory days of the former Alliance Party.

The first attempt was made by former Republic of Fiji Military Forces Commander Ratu Epeli Ganilau who formally registered the National Alliance Party of Fiji in 2005. It was touted at the time as the successor to the original Alliance Party led by his father-in-law.

But it never found traction and died a natural death.

Mr Rabuka’s People’s Alliance could be heading the same direction and suffer the same fate too.

Mr Rabuka has shown that he is not ready to give up politics yet and he will give it one more shot as his last throw of the dice.

Mahendra Chaudhry

Mr Chaudhry is the most distinguished of the 70’s club. He turns 79 next month, making him the oldest active politician today.

He will be 80 when he leads the Fiji Labour Labour Party team into next year’s election. That will be a milestone achievement.

He is a survivor and has resisted many attempts to get him to step down as Labour leader and quit politics.

Viliame Gavoka

SODELPA party leader Viliame Gavoka joined this special 70’s club in July last year. His new role to lead the party into the next election has given him a new lease of life.

He is unpeturbed by those who say he is too old to lead the party. He is in good health and he will be in politics for quite a while yet.

Following Ratu Mara

The four leaders will follow in the foot steps of Ratu Sir Kamisese who performed some of his best leadership years in his 70s before he died at 82. It’s not uncommon to see national leaders still in leadership in their senior years.

Mahathir PM at 93

Malaysian statesman Mahathir bin Mohammad came out of retirement and became Prime Minister of his country for the second time at the age of 93 in 2018. He was Prime Minister for the first time in 1981 when he was 56.

In 2018 he gate crashed a panel discussion where voters were debating whether he was too old to be Prime Minister.

He said: “There are two types of ages. One in terms of years and one in terms of the body. As far as health is concerned I am not senile yet.”

Ro Teimumu, Mr Rabuka, Mr Chaudhry and Mr Gavoka are in good physical shape to withstand the rigours of politics.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj



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