RO TEIMUMU OR RABUKA?
Ro Teimumu Kepa.
By ROSI DOVIVERATA
The Gone Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa, may take on the leading role for one of Fiji’s biggest political parties, the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA). Since Fiji’s first coup leader and later elected Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka declared his interest to be the party leader, he has ruffled a few feathers in the party hierarchy. While he may be articulate and charismatic, his credibility is still a big question mark. In fact, there are some who are bold enough to say he would be a serious liability for the party. However, they would accept him as a candidate, not as party leader. His only serious rival for party leader is Ro Teimumu, some senior party officials say. That is why even those who have been nominated for the position are willing to step aside to allow Ro Teimumu to come in unhindered. It has been reported earlier that she had opted to stay away from politics to concentrate on her traditional role. But Mr Rabuka’s emergence on the scene has prompted her to reconsider her position. And there is a strong likelihood that she will throw her hat in the ring too, especially if the party prefers her to Mr Rabuka. As one of the founders of SODELPA, she is committed to its cause and she would not sit on the sidelines and watch the party lose its support base –something she has worked so hard to build. Ro Teimumu played an important role in keeping the Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni Lewenivanua (rebranded SODELPA) party intact during the trial and later jail term of Laisenia Qarase. Her vocal stand against the Bainimarama Government is well documented, a reputation some of the other party leader contenders do not possess. Her traditional links to the Kubuna and Tovata confederacy also augur well for the party. Mr Rabuka progressively lost his support while Prime Minsiter. This culminated in his politically suicidal pact with Jai Ram Reddy’s National Federation Party in the 1999 general election. His Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei party suffered a humiliating defeat to Mahendra Chaudhry’s Fiji Labour Party. The party was annihilated in all the constituencies because voters did not believe the coalition was credible. Indo-Fijians and i-Taukei did not trust the deal and voted accordingly. It was a miscalculation that Mr Rabuka later regretted. He admitted he should have waited after the election to form a coalition. But the damage had been done. People also still see Mr Rabuka as the person who started the coup culture in Fiji and that’s a risk that SODELPA has to take if it allows him to lead the party. Mr Rabuka brings this to a party that is already struggling to consolidate its base and build on it. Ro Teimumu is a paramount chief and commands traditional support in the Burebasaga Confederacy. Whether that support can translate to political advantage remains to be seen. She was instrumental in the formation of the Fiji Native Tribal Congress, which was set up to advance the interests of the iTaukei and their chiefly system after the abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs. Her conservative views about iTaukei affairs could be detrimental in her efforts to reach out to other races, particularly among the younger voters who are more liberal in their thinking. Past comments will not be forgotten by some nor will her role in the Qarase Government.
Her other asset is that she could be the flag-bearer for women fighting for a bigger voice in the political arena. So the choice for SODELPA is to pick charismatic Mr Rabuka or conservative Ro Teimumu.