‘I HAVE NO PLANS FOR ELECTION’
New president Ratu Epenisa a stabilising influence in uneasy first meeting of the two factions
Newly elected SODELPA party president Ratu Epenisa Cakobau says he intends to focus on uniting the party
It looked and sounded good inside SODELPA’s Special General Meeting yesterday although it was not quite the same outside. As angry supporters protested about their lockout outside the gates of Novotel Lami Bay Resort, delegates danced to a funky tune to celebrate the successful election of new president, Bau Chief Ratu Epenisa Cakobau and Vice-Presidents Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, Ro Teimumu Kepa and George Shiu Raj.
The meeting was closed to the media but proceedings were leaked out. Tension was high between the two opposing sides meeting together for the first time.
It was only defused after the three high chiefs of Fiji were elected unopposed. Mr Shiu Raj was the only one who had to contest his seat and beat Ratu Jone Lesuma. Suva lawyer Tanya Waqanika was also nominated but withdrew because her Chief Ro Teimumu, the Roko Tui Dreketi, paramount chief of Rewa and Burebasaga Confederacy, was also nominated.
A Ratu Vakalalabure from Vanua Levu was also nominated but he withdrew to give way to his chief Ratu Naiqama, the Tui Cakau, paramount chief of Cakaudrove and the Tovata Confederacy.
If that had not happened the meeting could have turned ugly because the rival groups were prepared for battle for positions and general secretary Emele Duitutuga was glad it turned out the way it did.
She did her best to try to steer the meeting away from the old practices and referred to the party constitution. More than once she had to consult the legal experts to ensure they were strictly following the constitution.
She ruled that Friday’s Management Board’s decision to appoint Ratu Naiqama to chair the SGM was unconstitutional and invalid. That was why the election of President was done first so that he or she could chair the meeting.
The election of the Vice Presidents was a subject of intense discussions over the processes. When they finally got sorted, only one position was contested and Mr Shiu Raj won it. The party is not out of the woods yet. It was evident yesterday that emotions were still running high. The coming months will be crucial building up to the appointment of the party leader in November.
Ratu Naiqama’s conservative right wing wants Caretaker party leader and Opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka to lead the party into the 2022 election. The moderates may not necessarily agree with it.
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From left: Opposition whip Lynda Tabuya and the newly-elected SODELPA party president Ratu Epenisa Cakobau with party supporters at the Special General Meeting at the Novotel Convention Centre on July 25, 2020. Inoke Rabonu
SODELPA Caretaker party leader Sitiveni Rabuka (second from left) and newly elected party president Ratu Epenisa Cakobau (fourth from left), with SODELPA youth members at the Novotel Convention Centre on July 25, 2020.