SODELPA fate in hands of Speaker

Opinion Piece by Stanley Simpson

It will come down to how the Speaker interprets the situation and I feel his ruling could go either way.

SODELPA president Ratu Epenisa Cakobau has written to the Speaker seeking to apply for fresh motions for the appointment of the Opposition Leader – stating that in voting for Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu in caucus and nominating his name in Parliament – “the party directive was disregarded.” He wrote that “despite the communication of the party” to vote for Gavoka as Opposition leader ” 14 of the MPs in caucus voted for Ratu Naiqama “disrespecting the party directive.” 

Section 63 (1) of the Fijian Constitution comes into play as it states that the seat of an MP 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.” Opposition whip Lynda Tabuya says in this Fiji Times article that Section 63 does not apply “because no voting took place in Parliament that day.” Again it comes down to interpretation. What constitutes Parliament – just the main Parliamentary seating or floor or the whole Parliamentary premises i.e Did the caucus vote at the Opposition Office ‘IN’ Parliament. 

Recalling that when PM assaulted Pio Tikoduadua last year – he did so outside in the Parliament carpark but as DPP Christopher Pryde put it: “…as the altercation occurred WITHIN THE PRECINCTS of Parliament, the SPEAKER EXERCISED HIS AUTHORITY and referred the matter to the Privileges Committee to hear evidence of the matter and to make findings on the allegation.” Will the Speaker rule that the vote by the caucus at the Opposition chambers (if it did happen there) constitute a vote ‘within the precincts’ of Parliament defying party directives? We will see. 

The caucus is also challenging Ratu Epenisa’s assertion saying there was no directive from the party for members to vote for Gavoka. They state it was only a guide. Ratu Epenisa in his letter states that there was “clear indication” that the party was putting forward only one name and that “no voting should take place in caucus and in parliament.” 

It comes down to if the Speaker determines that a directive was made and if it was defied. Noting that Section 63 states that the MP loses their seat if they abstain or vote ‘contrary to ANY direction issued by the political party’. 

Perhaps another issue that could be challenged is who makes up or represents the ‘party’ in this case. The SODELPA management board and executives or the SODELPA Members of Parliament within caucus? Lynda states that the complaint by Ratu Epenisa’s call for fresh elections is void because he had congratulated Ratu Naiqama after the nomination. 50-50. She also states that the party has no business in the process of parliament. 50-50 or she could be totally wrong given that Section 63 specifically talks about direction “issued by the political party.” But she could also be very right 

Again it comes down to the interpretation by the Speaker. The same way they put themselves in the hands of the Supervisor of Election’s earlier this year, SODELPA has now put their fate in the hands of the Speaker. 

The Speaker could simply rule on the narrow parameters of the letter and either uphold Ratu Naiqama’s nomination or call for fresh nominations as per letter request. Or he could go one step further and rule that the 14-15 seats that defied party directives have breached Section 63 and must now be vacated. 

That would open up the spaces for the 14-15 members as outlined below except for Kitione Vuetaki who has passed on. The list sought from SODELPA office details where these candidates are. The Speaker could of course put the matter back to SODELPA to sort out. In any regard – its in his hands now.

Potential SODELPA line-up: Ratu Isoa Tikoca, Jone Rabici Seniloli, Kitione Vuataki (deceased), Albert Wise, Kiniviliame Kiliraki, Adi Meretui Ratubuabua, Nacanieli Waka, Esrom Yusuf Immanuel, Malakai Nalawa, Uraia Salababa, Berenado Daveta, Opetaia Ravai, Dr Mere Samisoni, George Shiu Raj, Ratu Peceli Rinakama, and Jiosefa Dulakiverata 

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