A new SODELPA parliamentary line-up is on the cards, following a letter by party president Ratu Epenisa Cakobau that caucus MPs defied party directives in their selection of Ratu Naiqama as the parliamentary leader and leader of opposition.
Section 63 subsection 1H of the 2013 Fiji Constitution states that the seat of a member of Parliament becomes vacant if the member – “votes or abstains from voting in Parliament contrary to any direction issued by the political party for which he or she was a candidate.”
In the letter to the Speaker, reported by local media Ratu Epenisa states that in choosing Ratu Naiqama – despite the party directing that the name of party leader Viliame Gavoka be put forward – the “party directive was disregarded.”
Ratu Epenisa stated that the party constitution under section 16 “clearly stipulates that the party leader is also the parliamentary leader.”
SODELPA caucus members maintain however that the same section 16 gives the caucus the power to decide the Parliamentary leader and leader of Opposition and also clearly states that the “Party leader may not necessarily be the Parliamentary leader or vice versa.”
With the resignation of former leader Sitiveni Rabuka, 14 of the 20 remaining SODELPA MPs voted for Ratu Naiqama, while 5 voted for Party leader Gavoka. Party Whip Lynda Tabuya who conducted the election in caucus abstained.
The decision of the Speaker is now eagerly awaited and SODELPA could be further embroiled in legal wrangling over the interpretation of their Constitution – which earlier this year led to the intervention of the Supervisor of Elections and the temporary suspension of the party.
Worse still – there are real fears of a party split – with former leader Rabuka now indicating that he intends to form a new party.
Should the ruling be that the 14 MPs who voted for Ratu Naiqama did defy the party directive and therefore have to vacate their seats it could pave the way for the return of seasoned parliamentarians Ratu Isoa Tikoca, Dr Mere Samisoni, George Shiu Raj, Ratu Peceli Rinakama and Jiosefa Dulakiverata.
In 2015, former Minister of Health and FijiFirst MP Dr Neil Sharma had to resign as an MP and vacate his seat after he voted in favour of opposition.
If the Speaker keeps with that ruling, offending MPs vacate seats to make way for the next eligible candidates based on 2018 election vote counts.
Accordingly – those also in line to take up the seats are Jone Rabici Seniloli, Albert Wise, Ratu Kiniviliame Kiliraki, Adi Meretui Ratubuabua, Nacanieli Waka, Esrom Yusuf Immanuel, Malakai Nalawa, Uraia Salababa, Berenado Daveta, and former Water Authority of Fiji Chief Executive Officer Opetaia Ravai.
Mai TV also understands that some party executives have threatened to resign by Monday if the vote by the caucus for Ratu Naiqama to be Parliamentary leader and Leader of Opposition stands.