27 May 2020

Finances and personal differences split Fiji's SODELPA

3:37 pm on 27 May 2020

The leader of the suspended Social Democratic Liberal Party in Fiji says a lack of transparency regarding donations and a failure to handle differences has split the party in two .

The leader of Fiji's opposition SODELPA party Sitiveni Rabuka announces his party's candidates to contest next month's elections.

SODELPA leader, Sitiveni Rabuka Photo: RNZ / Kelvin Anthony

On Monday, the Elections Office suspended the country's main opposition party for breaching political rules and the Constitution.

This came after two separate meetings were held by competing factions over the weekend with the intent to name their own party officials.

Last month the High Court ruled the 2019 election of the SODELPA president and his deputy was illegal and party decisions dating back to last June were void.

SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka has now revealed there were murmurings of discontent around financial issues as well.

Mr Rabuka said supporters of the party in the US queried the manner in which their funds were used during the 2018 General Election.

The US Chapter is SODELPA's largest support base and reportedly donated $US150,000 to the campaign which saw the party win 21 of the 51 seats in parliament.

Mr Rabuka said there were complaints about a lack of accountability and transparency regarding their donations.

The former prime minister said divisions within the party were further deepened by the recent appointment of a member to the board.

Party report with anti-corruption unit

Meanwhile, the party's file has been handed over to the Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC).

Mohammed Saneem said FICAC would look into claims of "missing provisions" within SODELPA's constitution.

Mr Saneem said the suspended party and its members would need to resolve their issues including "discrepancies within its constitution" before they make any submission.

"The registered officers are expected to be producing accurate information to the Registrar for the members of the public.

"This is another matter that will now be referred to the enforcement arm which is FICAC."

SODELPA urged to close social media pages

Earlier, SODELPA officials were advised to take down all the party's social media pages following its suspension by the Supervisor of Elections and Registrar of Political Parties.

Mohammed Saneem said it was important that compliance with his decision was maintained by party officials.

Following last weekend's separate meetings and different appointments, Mr Saneem said political rules and the Constitution had been breached.

All appointments were declared null and void.

"I'm hoping that officials of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (in suspension) are taking down all the Facebook pages because they cannot call themselves out as a political party anymore.

"It's absolutely critical that compliance is done to the maximum to ensure that the public is protected," Mr Saneem said.

Fiji's Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem.

Fiji's Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Koroi Hawkins

Time for unification - Rabuka

Meanwhile, Sitiveni Rabuka, who remained leader after the weekend's turmoil, said they would respect the decision by the Elections Office.

Mr Rabuka said the suspension was an avenue to unify the party.

He said they would compile a report aimed at making the party constitutionally sustainable within the 60 days' time given by the FEO.

Mr Rabuka said party members held a briefing at the Opposition Chambers following the announcement.

"This is an opportune time to fix the damage. It's up to us to meet the requirements laid down by the Supervisor of Elections and we have 60 days."

The suspension of SODELPA means its 21 MPs would not be able to attend Parliament or be in the premises over the next 60 days.

Mr Rabuka said the party would not appeal the decision.

Fijian Elections Office.

Fijian Elections Office. Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

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