SODELPA in Need of Unity

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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.

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