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Vote for prime minister to take place in Fiji’s Parliament

Friday 23 December 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Fiji, Regional


Vote for prime minister to take place in Fiji’s Parliament
Sodelpa vice president Anare Jale. RNZ

Fiji’s newly-elected government will decide who is to be prime minister when Parliament convenes later today (Saturday, Fiji time).

The President of Fiji issued the proclamation informing political parties the first sitting following the 2022 general election would take place at 9.30am FJT.

This followed opposition parties announcing the formation of a coalition agreement, giving them a majority of seats in Parliament.

For the second time in the last 72 hours, cheers of joy erupted in the capital after the king-maker, Social Democratic Liberal Party (Sodelpa) announced it had joined forces with the People's Alliance (PA) - National Federation Party (NFP) bloc.

The decision was made by Sodelpa's 26-member management board through a secret ballot where 13 voted in favor of the PA-NFP alliance and 12 for FijiFirst, ending the latter's eight-year reign. One of the votes was declared invalid.

The party's outgoing leader, Viliame Gavoka, said democracy had won.

"We went into it fully committed to ensuring that we have the best for this country.

"We believe and we have agreed on a way forward that benefits this country going forward," Gavoka said.

PA leader, Sitiveni Rabuka welcomed the news.

"This decision has come up by Sodelpa very quick and we acknowledge the sacrifice on their part," Rabuka said.

"I am grateful and honoured that they have decided to go along with the two-party coalition choice for the leadership of Parliamentary group and government."

Singing the same tune, NFP leader Biman Prasad was ready to get to work.

"I am personally delighted because I always believed the NFP, PA and Sodelpa would be natural partners in a government," Biman said.

"I have worked with Sodelpa in government ... after the results I was quietly confident that together we would provide a government for this country that people would be proud of."

How did Fiji get here?

At the start of this week, Sodelpa announced it was forming a coalition government with PA-NFP, but this was declared null and void following anomalies in Sodelpa's ballot voting system, sending them back to square one.

Necessary measures had been taken to address the anomalies and irregularities identified by the registrar of political parties, Gavoka said.

"Today, we ensure that everyone who was there was legitimate and was valid," he said.

This decision could potentially mark the end of an era that saw 16 years of political dominance by the coup leader turned prime minister Frank Bainimarama.

Not out of the woods just yet

Fijians will have to hold back their celebration until a final decision is made on the floor of Parliament, where MPs will cast their votes for the next prime minister and speaker of the house in a secret ballot.

Soldepa vice-president and head of negotiations Anare Jale told media urgency was the utmost priority for the party.

"What we are doing today is to issue directives to our three members of Parliament on how they are going to vote for the position of speaker and also prime minister," Jale said.

"We know Parliament will convene shortly, so, more the reasons these directive needs to be in the hands of the members of Sodelpa's MP in Parliament."

He added that a coalition agreement was to follow in the next few days ... "Hopefully, something can be concluded and signed by Wednesday."

Back to square one

The events of the day had the nation in anticipation as Sodelpa had reopened negotiations, meeting with PA-NFP and FijiFirst.

Arriving at the meeting, a somewhat optimistic PA leader, Sitiveni Rabuka, laughingly asked the media, "is it round number two?"

Following him were PA deputy leader Manoa Kamikamica, NFP leader Biman Prasad, and President Pio Tikoduadua, who said they were feeling "good" about their chances at the meeting.

FijiFirst turned up ready to hit a home run with a high-powered delegation including prime minister Frank Bainimarama, general secretary Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, defence minister Inia Seruiratu and former military commander Viliame Naupoto and former Commissioner of Police Iowane Naivalarua, who are both FijiFirst MPs now.

During a press conference earlier this week, Sayed-Khaiyum rejected the validity of negotiations among political parties outside Parliamentary process but welcomed Sodelpa's invitation to present its bid at the meeting.

"We obviously look forward to them meeting again ... and obviously quite happy and willing to do so," he said.

Gavoka commended both party leaders for their presentations.

Friction within the king-makers

Sodelpa has been riddled with controversy, with the party's secretary general and leader resigning and the recent scandal regarding the party's internal processes with regard to the secret ballot voting.

Sodelpa general secretary Lenaitasi Duru said he facilitated the secret ballot counting process and witnessed irregularities.

"The quorum is made of 22 members ... but present at voting was 30 of which four was non-compliant, and some of those they were sitting there wasn't supposed to be voting," he said, resulting in the re-vote.

Some party members, however, feel as though they have been wronged and ousted.

Sodelpa candidate Koroi Tikiolomaloma told media outside the meeting room that they were "disappointed".

"We (candidates) all contributed to the 5 percent (votes) Sodelpa today enjoys ... and for us to be denied that right is very sad," Tikiolomaloma said.

"There was no consensual agreement. They did not sit down and ask us of our opinions. They just going to brush things right above us."

Meanwhile, Fiji's military has been called in to help the police amid claims of growing ethnic tension.

On Friday (Fiji time), Fiji Police said its assistant commissioner had resigned, citing personal reasons.