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SODELPA, learn­ing from its ex­pe­ri­ence in the 2014 gen­eral elec­tion, has taken con­crete steps not to re­peat the same mis­takes. One of those mis­takes was leav­ing things to the last weeks be­fore polling be­gan.

The first ma­jor sign that it’s now switched on to elec­tion mode is its clar­ion call for vol­un­teers to help mo­bilise the party ma­chin­ery.

In a mes­sage to its sup­port­ers the party says: “Get in­volved to­day: SODELPA aims to win the 2018 elec­tions. All po­lit­i­cal par­ties are self-fund­ing and vol­un­teer­ing is one way to donate your time and skills to help the party win in 2018. “There’s more than one way to help SODELPA: Par­ties are funded solely by dona­tions and vol­un­teer­ing is a way for you to con­trib­ute to the cam­paign - it is your be­liefs in ac­tion. “You will work with a great team of like-minded vol­un­teers giv­ing our all to en­sure Fiji is gov­erned in the right way. Vol­un­tary help is needed at all lev­els of the party and in all di­vi­sions of Fiji. “We rely on our mem­bers to shape our poli­cies, fight our cam­paigns and help to run and win elec­tions where we can make a dif­fer­ence for Fiji.” Those in­ter­ested have to ap­ply with their CVs which will be vet­ted and ap­proved or re­jected.

This is in line with the party’s res­o­lu­tions at a spe­cial gen­eral meet­ing last year which adopted sweep­ing changes to the party’s con­sti­tu­tion. The changes were de­signed to strengthen the party ma­chin­ery, raise the qual­ity of SODELPA poli­cies to com­ply with ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency stan­dards, and po­si­tion the party for an im­proved per­for­mance in the 2018 gen­eral elec­tion. While its de­clared aim is to win the elec­tion, party leader Si­tiveni Rabuka and se­nior party of­fi­cials know it would take a mas­sive ef­fort even a mir­a­cle to de­feat Prime Min­is­ter Voreqe Bain­i­marama’s Fi­jiFirst Govern­ment.

In his po­lit­i­cal come­back, Mr Rabuka has shown he is a re­al­ist. He has pre­vi­ously said that it would be dif­fi­cult to un­seat Fi­jiFirst from power in its cur­rent form.

But he is also a strate­gist, an art he gained from his mil­i­tary ca­reer. He also has ex­pe­ri­ence on his side be­cause he has held the coun­try’s top job as Prime Min­is­ter and he also knows what it’s like to suf­fer a hu­mil­i­at­ing loss in a gen­eral elec­tion. In 1999, his SVT Party failed to win a seat. It be­came the party’s kiss of death.

Af­ter all these years of wan­der­ing in the po­lit­i­cal wilder­ness he is back to have his last crack at pol­i­tics. His big­gest chal­lenge is cred­i­bil­ity. He has re­ceived cold re­cep­tion from the same group, in­clud­ing Op­po­si­tion Leader and for­mer party leader Ro Tei­mumu Kepa, that blocked his at­tempt to be­come party leader in 2014 be­cause of his coup in­volve­ment in 1987. They are part of a larger group out­side the party who are still sus­pi­cious of Mr Rabuka although he has apol­o­gised pub­licly. Mr Rabuka’s sav­ing grace is the re­form­ers, re­spon­si­ble for the changes hap­pen­ing in the party now, sup­port him and be­lieve he has what it takes to make a dif­fer­ence in 2018.

One of the ar­chi­tects of the re­forms is lawyer, pub­lic and busi­ness an­a­lyst, Adi Li­tia Qion­i­bar­avi, the party’s act­ing gen­eral sec­re­tary. Adi Li­tia ad­vises a core group of re­form­ers that in­clude some MPs like Salote Radro­dro, Aseri Radro­dro, Mos­ese Buli­tavu, and se­nior party of­fi­cials like man­age­ment board mem­ber Anare Jale, a for­mer per­ma­nent sec­re­tary of the Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion and exdiplo­mat. They have re­vamped struc­tures to lift the bar. Party vol­un­teers will be thor­oughly screened to meet the cri­te­ria as the party builds to­wards an in­te­grated ap­proach to the elec­tion cam­paign. The party is draw­ing up an elab­o­rate cam­paign plan. One of the fea­tures is that at the lo­cal branch level, vol­un­teer­ing will in­volve door to door cam­paigns, hand­ing out fly­ers, help­ing or­gan­ise party ral­lies, fundrais­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and tak­ing part in party meet­ings. In all ar­eas SODELPA says it will pro­vide in-house train­ing but any rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence and skill sets would be de­sir­able. “Wher­ever pos­si­ble we aim to iden­tify spe­cific roles for peo­ple ac­cord­ing to their skills, ex­pe­ri­ence, in­ter­est and avail­abil­ity. The more in­for­ma­tion you pro­vide on the ap­pli­ca­tion form, the greater the like­li­hood of us be­ing able to find an ap­pro­pri­ate way to use your skills. We are very for­tu­nate to re­ceive a high level of in­ter­est for vol­un­teer­ing in our of­fice, but with only lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able, this un­for­tu­nately means it is not al­ways pos­si­ble to place ev­ery­one that ap­plies.” As­pir­ing mem­bers would also have to ap­ply to be­come can­di­dates for the elec­tion and they must meet the min­i­mum stan­dards re­quired to be con­sid­ered el­i­gi­ble.

The ac­tiv­i­ties so far are a stark con­trast to what the party did in 2014. The party looks more or­gan­ised now and it ap­pears it will be bet­ter pre­pared. The chal­lenge is whether this will trans­late into more votes.

TO­MOR­ROW: Is­sues that con­sti­tute SODELPA’s big­gest chal­lenge

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