SODELPA in Need of Unity
The next general elections will be more intense than the first. Political parties would have learned from their experience in 2014 and are working hard to rectify mistakes they made. For SODELPA, the second biggest party in Parliament, it knows that it is the only party that has the potential to give the FijiFirst Government a credible challenge, if it gets its policies right.
But it currently faces internal challenges that can weaken its prospects. One of them is unity. While some prominent party politicians have distanced themselves from a proposed new party, including Opposition leader and former party leader, Ro Teimumu Kepa, there are remnants still left of a group that still vehemently opposes Sitiveni Rabuka, as the new party leader. But their numbers appear to be dwindling. They are now reduced to a small group led by former SODELPA youth wing leader Pita Waqavonovono. Forms are understood to have been taken around for signatures to form a proposed new party. It’s highly unlikely that the numbers will reach the required 5000 signatures under the political parties’ decree. So the dissenting group is just nuisance value for SODELPA now. So Lau SODELPA supporters earlier thought to be with the new party movement are likely to stick with SODELPA. The Lau voice in SODELPA, Anare Jale, SODELPA’s vice-president, has categorically denied any involvement with the proposed party. He is even planning to contest the next election on a SODELPA ticket. That issue aside, SODELPA’s real challenge is coming up with a multiracial platform that competes with FijiFirst’s popular one people, one Fiji and non-discriminatory policies. Any party that preaches policies that are non inclusive or alienate one or more ethnic groups Photo: Ronald Kumar or marginalised communities are likely to lose votes. More and more people who were sceptical about the real intent of the 2013 Constitution are now converted because they have seen the positive changes that have happened since the 2014 general election.
The recent celebrations to mark our first Olympic gold medal demonstrated the strong sense of patriotism in a nation united for a great purpose. People from different walks of life, different ethnicities, cultures and religion and diverse interests got together in a spirit of one Fiji. They forgot the differences that separate them, stood side by side, hand in hand, to savour this moment in time of a small but proud nation of one people and one purpose.
It is the same spirit that was present at Albert Park in Suva in 1970, as thousands gathered to witness the banner blue hoisted for the first time as a new symbol of Fiji’s nationhood and sovereignty. It brought tears of joy and a sense of national pride. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama recognised the same spirit in Rio when the Fijian national sevens rugby heroes won the country’s first Olympic gold. The same spirit spilled into celebrations here. It moved him so much that he announced the national flag will remain and will not be changed in a foreseeable future. This was a wonderful gesture on his part because it proved that he listens.
It’s against this backdrop that political parties have to draw up smart strategies to counter FijiFirst’s commanding position in the build-up to the 2018 general election. For SODELPA, it must come up with clear policies, to woo new voters. Its 2014 policies will not work because other races do not identify with them. And the party cannot win on indigenous issues alone. Mr Rabuka is fully aware of it and he has spoken about it before. If the policies are not inclusive then it may actually lose more votes and more seats.
The following is an edited version of Nemani Delaibatiki’s My Say for FBC’s 4 The Record programme.