Fiji kingmaker party divided on coalition choices


The kingmaker in Fiji’s general election, the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA, is split over who it should align with to form a new government.

Party leader Viliame Gavoka said they had received proposals from the incumbent FijiFirst and the bloc of the People’s Alliance (PA) and the National Federation Party (NFP).

The Sodelpa management board met on Monday, but after hours of politicking, Gavoka emerged to declare no deal had been made.

However, the youth wing of Sodelpa are against any move by its board to form a coalition with FijiFirst post-election.

A letter from the Sodelpa Youth Council expressed their “distaste” to the party’s main decision-making board for “agreeing to consider” Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s FijiFirst as a potential partner.

The letter said differences had to be put aside to “put an end to 16 years of dictatorial leadership” under Bainimarama.

Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre coordinator Shamima Ali said it was not fair that the Fijian people are having to wait this long for a government to be formed.

Ali is calling for the political leaders to “come to their senses.”

“I hope that political parties come to an understanding for a peaceful Fiji where human rights are respected and where we don’t have such restrictive laws,” she said.

She hoped the parties would put people first “and [behave] like the religious society that we are – where forgiveness and kindness are paramount”.

University of Canterbury Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies Director Professor Steven Ratuva labelled it a knife-edge election.

Ratuva said Fiji had seen a shift in power, but it still held a chance to bring back “real democracy” in the country.

He added all players understood the power conjured by Sodelpa, and big bargains from both sides would be dangled before them.

The options on the table for Sodelpa are woven with political complexities. On one hand is Frank Bainimarama’s FijiFirst, which deposed the founding leader of Sodelpa – late Prime Minister Laiseni Qarase, who was arrested and jailed following the 2006 coup.

However, Ratuva said an unexpected coalition between FijiFirst and Sodelpa would not be “impossible”.

“The history of Fiji is littered with such cases where opposing politicians got together, remember when [Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra] Chaudhry got together with Rabuka as prime minister in 1992,” he explained. “Nothing is impossible in Fiji and in politics generally”.

Ratuva said desperation was in the air, and Sodelpa would be able to leverage on promises made on the campaign trail.

“FijiFirst will be desperate to give them what they want,” he said.

“Even the deputy prime minister’s position or even to speculate the prime minister’s position, but whether that will happen or not is another question because I doubt that Bainimarama would easily relinquish that position, which he has been holding for a long time.”

But whether the two parties are able to see eye-to-eye on policy remains in question.

Ratuva said Sodelpa’s manifesto strongly counters the policies of the FijiFirst party, not only in this election but over the last two terms in parliament.

The other party that Sodelpa could get into business with is the PA-NFP alliance.

“It’s much easier because the PAP and Sodelpa were once the same party originally,” he explained.

But that does not cancel out the frictions between the two parties after then-leader Rabuka walked out in 2020, decimating the party’s support base.

While there are personality power dynamics at play in this possible coalition, political watchers predict they could form a smoother transition.

“If you look at a lot of the policies of Sodelpa and PA they are very similar,” Ratuva said, indicating parallels between the PAP-NFP and Sodelpa.