Uneasy calm hangs over embattled SODELPA
Barely less than two weeks after a united front was cobbled together at SODELPA’s Special General meeting an uneasy calm pervades the party.
The two rival factions are struggling to build on the delicate progress fostered at the SGM.
There were hopes that the Budget debate would cement another building block. But it was evident that the
MPs lacked cohesion and leadership.
There was little co-ordination and MPs went on different tangents.
Despite their claims, their lacklustre performance indicated something was not quite right.
Maybe their heart was not in the right place because of the differences that exist between the moderates now led by Bau Chief Ratu Epenisa Cakobau and the conservative right wing led by Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu. Some members, particularly from the conservative right wing, welcomed the election of chiefs to the party hierarchy. They believe it will strengthen party unity. But others are not quite so sure. They think it gives ammunition to the right wingers to advance their conservative ideologies at a time when the predominantly iTaukei party is moving towards broadening its base to attract other races.
Two of the vice presidents are chiefs, the Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama, who is the paramount chief of Cakaudrove and the Tovata Confederacy, and Ro Teimumu Kepa, Roko Tui Dreketi, paramount chief of Rewa and Burebasaga Confederacy. The chiefs can have both positive and negative impact on the party.
The positive is they defused what could have been an explosive situation at the SGM. The factions were headed for a heated showdown over the election of officers. But it fizzled out after the chiefs were elected unopposed.
Prior to that there were shouting matches between some of the right wingers and general secretary Emele Duituturaga over procedural issues.
One that will be argued over the coming months as a buildup to the Annual General Assembly in November is the role of the presiding authority and the general secretary.
More rising issues
At the Management Board meeting on July 24, it was decided through some form of consensus that Ratu Naiqama, with the support of Ratu Epenisa, would chair the SGM the following day. Ms Duituturaga should have intervened and ruled that it was unconstitutional and the proper processes should be followed through a show of hands or the ballot box.
This was done the following day after legal advice and she announced it at the SGM. In the absence of a properly elected chair she assumed control of the meeting and called for the election of president. Ratu Epenisa was elected and took over as chair.
The party constitution does not spell out what happens if a situation similar to the one in question arises.
All it says is that the president presides in a SGM, Management Board and General Assembly. Ms Duituturaga can expect more questions coming her way. The other contentious issue is the party leader selection.
If the party strictly complies with its constitution then it will find a new leader to replace Sitiveni Rabuka because the party lost the 2018 election. This will be consistent with its application against Ro Teimumu after she lost the 2014 election.
The situation can only change if an amendment is made to the constitution to allow Mr Rabuka to recontest the position.
It’s up to the moderates who appear to have an upper hand in the party to make this decision. They are expected to fulfill their mission to ensure that party complies with good governance principles.