Anyone who thinks that the Prime Minister’s decision to refuse to reinstate Aseri Radrodro and send him to the backbench is the end of internal Coalition division over the issue is kidding themselves. The chaos at the top of government is set to continue.
Within hours of the Prime Minister announcing that despite a traditional apology to him from Aseri Radrodro, he was sticking by his decision to sack him for disobedience and insubordination, the mutterings are already emerging from Radrodro’s supporters in SODELPA.
Today’s Fiji Sun quotes a SODELPA source as having said the dismissal is in “clear breach of the Coalition’s post-election agreement, which stipulated three SODELPA ministers, not two ministers and a backbencher”. And while it isn’t clear what the reaction from Radrodro’s supporters will be, we can be sure of a great deal of instability and uncertainty over the coming weeks and months.
A clear sign of the potential for trouble ahead came with the presence in Radrodro’s delegation to the PM yesterday of the high chief of Naitasiri – the Qaranivalu, Ratu Inoke Takiveikata – who has just been released from prison having been pardoned for his role in instigating the 2000 mutiny in the RFMF. Aseri Radrodro is the Qaranivalu’s man and Ratu Inoke and his other supporters are hard men and iTaukei extremists who will not have been expecting Sitiveni Rabuka to thumb his nose so dismissively at Radrodro’s traditional apology.
What they do next is critical to the government’s survival. But anyone who thinks that they will meekly accept the Prime Minister’s snub is severely underestimating the depth of feeling in the faction of SODELPA that remains solidly behind the dumped Minister for Education. All the talk in recent days of “respect” for Rabuka and assurances that there were “no plans to do a deal with FijiFirst” and bring down the government were predicated on the PM playing ball. And as the Fiji Sun’s source is already indicating, his refusal to do so will almost certainly trigger a fresh stand-off.
Aseri Radrodro has been humiliated. He becomes the sole Coalition backbencher of the entire government, with all of the rest of its MPs holding ministerial positions of one sort or another. And he has taken a huge tumble in terms of salary, perks and prestige. He now has all the time in the world to plot. And now that we know the Qaranivalu is by his side – a man willing to use force and even kill in 2000 to get his own way – the government and the country is entering a new and dangerous phase.
Naitasiri is seething with resentment and how this all plays out is anyone’s guess. Except that we already know that Aseri Radrodro isn’t going to go quietly. He and his supporters are intent on revenge and the only thing yet to be determined is what form that will take.