Support for Rabuka as Sodelpa Leader More than an Exercise in Political Expediency
- Credit: Sai Lealea
Much has been said and casualties continue to be counted as the ripple effect of Rabuka's election as the new Sodelpa leader rattles support for the party. For some, resignation from the party is the only cause of action to show their repudiation and opposition to the election of the father of coups in Fiji to take the Sodelpa party forward to the 2018 election. I would argue that Rabuka at the helm of the Sodelpa party provides the best chance to wrestle power off Bainimarama and his FijiFirst party. He is best placed to do this given both his tainted legacy and his experience in government and familiarity with the "military group think" that has come to characterize the Bainimarama regime.
The very reason Rabuka is tainted as the author of coups in Fiji can serve as a powerful perverse incentive for him to right that wrong. Having apologised profusely about his past actions, he can now redeem himself by restoring sanity to the political landscape in Fiji. With the political pendulum having swung both ends of the spectrum since his first coup, he can, armed with hindsight and foresight, move to strike a moderate balance between the extremes. On this point, I would suggest the 1997 Constitution offers the best platform for securing that political recalibration. Aided by his experience in government and military background any impact can in turn be moderated.
Rabuka's experience as former PM and military commander makes him more than a match for Bainimarama and his FijiFirst government, populated largely by ex military personnel. It is widely acknowledged he is far smarter than Bainimarama and all his ex military ministers, including the President put together! His colleagues in the Sodelpa lineup in Parliament, have more brains than the rest of the FijiFirst cabinet and parliamentary lineup. The ongoing challenge in parliament is denting the unsightly Khaiyum monopolising proceedings and acting as if he knows it all while Bainimarama momentarily nods through his endorsement when he awakes from his regular naps! Once Rabuka gets to reshuffle his parliamentary lineup by promoting strong debaters such as Tikoca, Gavoka, Niko Nawaikula and the likes to target Bainimarama and Khaiyum, Sodelpa and the NFP can raise their collective impact in a parliament that rarely sits.
Another advantage with Rabuka is the ability to be able to draw the attention and loyalty of the military, especially those who, like him, would like to redeem themselves and sever ties and the label of "pariah". Untangling the "military group think" can go some way for some in the military and Bainimarama's ex military colleagues and supporters in government to rethink the direction of the military and by extension government. It is a well known fact that ex military officers in government still have a sense of loyalty and duty to supporting Bainimarama as their former commander! With Rabuka, they have an alternative and one who has "been there done it" and in a far more democratic manner compared to the Bainimarama path of "my way or no way". Rabuka is therefore a known quantity even when he lost power, he accepted the result and stood down. We all know how much he's sought forgiveness for past wrongs since. Bainimarama has shown no inkling of ever being capable of regretting his treasonous actions, since he has simply thrived and prospered from it at the expense of the country!
But for some, both Rabuka and Bainimarama are still cut from the same coup cloth and just won't align with strongly held principles and values. Sadly, Mick Beddoes and Emele Duituturaga have both resigned from Sodelpa citing this reason and I can understand why. On the surface, electing Rabuka as Sodelppa leader makes a mockery of any claim to upholding democracy and human rights. Others had also doubted Rabuka's steadfastness against Bainimarama when at times he appeared to be "too readily accepting" of the military takeover and wasn't as vocal in opposition.
On other hand, Rabuka's election from within the party selection process can be regarded as democracy in action and indeed upholding human and political rights. Coupled with his various past and recent apologies, he can be labelled as having atoned for his political crimes while others may say he has yet to answer for his criminal actions. Either way, there are inherent conflicts with both points stated. The point here is that those asserting principles and values as the basis for opposing Rabuka will never be able to reconcile it with the practicalities of pragmatism, which after all, are the essence of what politics is about!
For my part, I have satisfied myself that if the selection process is credible and able to withstand scrutiny, I am happy to accept the result. In addition, if key party stalwarts pledge their support and Rabuka demonstrates he is mindful of his tainted legacy but pledges to promote unity and understanding, he has my support. To me he is by far the best candidate for the job required as of now! And that is, marshalling all the efforts and energy of the Sodelpa party to take power off the FijiFirst government and from Bainimarama come the 2018 election.
At a different time and against different political opponents, Rabuka would not necessarily be my choice! It is all about a leader who is "fit for purpose and for now" and Rabuka is it for me for now!