28 Jul 2020

Hundreds locked out of Sodelpa meeting as chiefs get nod

6:39 am on 28 July 2020

Hundreds of supporters of Fiji's Social Democratic Liberal Party or SODELPA are reportedly outraged after they found themselves locked out of a special general meeting in Lami last weekend.

The lockout stemmed from the government's Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings with no more than 200 people allowed in one place.

Party followers turned up at the venue only to be told they couldn't go in.

Saturday's meeting was held to elect the party's president, three vice-presidents and announce that the positions of leader and deputy leader were being advertised.

Niko Nawaikula.

Niko Nawaikula. Photo: Supplied

One of those locked out of the meeting was MP, Niko Nawaikula.

Naiwaikula said he was concerned about the process carried out to elect the president, Ratu Epenisa Cakobau.

He said those in control did not take the necessary procedures and processes of the party fairly.

He claimed one faction was against the nomination of Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu's for president.

Ratu Naiqama's one of three vice-presidents elected alongside former SODELPA leader Ro Teimumu Kepa and former MP George Shiu Raj.

"The critical point for me is that despite all the unfairness made against him, the Turaga na Tui Cakau has been strong enough and very courageous to say, look support the Kubuna."

Nawaikula said while he respected the appointment of Ratu Epenisa as president, he would continue to voice his concerns within the party.

"A lot more has to be done. There's a lot of animosity. There's a lot of differences," he said.

"Going forward, we will have to make further amendments to the constitution. I would like to see that management is reduced and properly represented."

Fiji's SODELPA leader, Sitiveni Rabuka.

Fiji's SODELPA leader, Sitiveni Rabuka. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

Taking the 'vanua approach'

Saturday's elections were expected to end months of feuding which split the party and resulted in two separate factions holding separate meetings to elect their executives in April.

This followed a faction taking the party to court and winning - with a ruling stating a 2019 AGM had breached political rules and the constitution.

In May, the Registrar of Political Parties Mohammed Saneem suspended SODELPA for 60 days but reinstated the party after 35 days.

Following Saturday's meeting, the party believed it now had the support of the vanua, (land), and its people.

Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka said SODELPA had all the elements to compete in the 2022 General Election.

Rabuka said the election of the high chiefs from the three confederacies - Kubuna, Tovata and Burebasaga - to head the party's executive committee proved SODELPA had the support of the vanua.

Bau chief Ratu Epenisa is the head of Kubuna confederacy, while Ro Teimumu's the Roko Tui Dreketi of Burebasaga and Ratu Naiqama is the Tui Cakau from the Tovata confederacy.

Rabuka said the party's leadership now had equal representation from the vanua.

"The vanua approach, while that's a good approach, we had to be careful that we work in accordance with the SODELPA Constitution - not only the constitution of the party but also the Constitution of Fiji."

He said the vanua was key to bringing unity within the party.

However Ro Teimumu would not be contesting the 2022 election.

The former opposition leader said she would instead focus on bringing unity in the party during her two-year term as vice president.

Ro Teimumu said she was still involved with the party after requests by chiefs from the Rewa province

 Emele Duituturaga.

Emele Duituturaga. Photo: supplied

Party leader, deputy positions advertised

Meanwhile, the party leader and deputy positions were being advertised.

General secretary Emele Duituturaga said this was in accordance with the Constitution.

Duituturaga said since the party's suspension in May, they had complied with all the requirements from the Elections Office and the Constitution.

"We have advertised, according to our constitution, the position of party leader and deputy party leader," she said.

"The general assembly accepts that we need to commence with that.

"We also have elected our president and vice-presidents who come with a lot of experience."

Duituturaga said the next step was to draw up SODELPA's manifesto for the 2022 election.