And so it begins. The unravelling of SODELPA as its Deputy Leader, Filimoni Vosarogo, resigns to join Sitiveni Rabuka’s People’s Alliance. We had a hint of this on the weekend when Vosarogo was pictured in the Fiji Times with the star Alliance recruit, Ajay Amrit, above an article in which Amrit expressed glowing admiration for the prominent Suva lawyer.
The loss of someone of the calibre of Vosarogo is a huge blow to SODELPA and its leader, Viliame Gavoka, and the big question now isn’t whether others will follow him but whether it is a trickle or a stampede. If it is the latter, then it signals the end of SODELPA’s hold on those iTaukei voters who will never vote for FijiFirst and it could wind up as a rump in the next parliament.
There’s an intriguing story doing the rounds that indicates that the split in SODELPA is much more serious than generally acknowledged and certainly for Gavoka and his chief patron among the “big three” high chiefs who are the party’s power brokers – the Bau chief Ratu Epenisa Cakobau.
This story has it that on the eve of Sitiveni Rabuka’s launch of the People’s Alliance in Nadi on October 11, another member of the “big three” – the high chief of Cakaudrove and SODELPA MP, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu – who happens to be Rabuka’s chief – led a delegation of SODELPA members to a meeting with the People’s Alliance leader. At that meeting, they are said to have presented him with a “soli” – a donation – and pledged the allegiance of no fewer than 15 senior SODELPA members. Even if that number eventually proves to be inflated, it is astonishing that Ratu Naiqama led a delegation to Rabuka in the first place.
Did he have the backing in doing so of the other member of the “big three” – the Rewa high chief and former SODELPA leader, Ro Teimumu Kepa? Or has Ratu Naiqama gone rogue – parting company with the other two chiefly luminaries in a clear sign that he too is going to defect and join the Alliance, taking with him a huge swag of votes from Vanua Levu?
Whatever eventuates – and all eyes are now on Lynda Tabuya, another SODELPA “new generation” star and close Rabuka associate, to see if she follows Vosarogo – it is a nightmare for SODELPA’s current leader, Gavoka, who is already widely regarded as a “dead man walking” as he struggles under the burden of a lacklustre performance in the parliament and being father-in-law to the government’s number two – Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
If Gavoka can’t hold the rest of the party together in the immediate aftermath of Vosarogo’s defection, he won’t only be toast but there’ll be a big question mark over SODELPA’s very existence. Sitiveni Rabuka will have driven a truck through the party he once led, cherry-picked its most talented and electorally appealing people, and left it as a shell of its former self.
The CJ Patel Fiji Sun – on behalf of its patron, the AG – keeps highlighting the divisions in SODELPA hoping to benefit FijiFirst. Yet the irony is that those stories are actually benefiting the People’s Alliance – now a far bigger threat to the AG as Rabuka works behind the scenes to craft a new team designed to sweep the FijiFirst government from office. Filimoni Vosarogo – SODELPA’s deputy leader – is now a member of that team and a potent player.