Saturday, 7 September 2019

I was Wrong. The Bainimarama-Tikoduadua Saga Lives On. Squeezing more juice from the lemon

I spoke too soon. I thought all the signs indicated reconciliation and a return to normalcy, whatever that now means in the Fiji political scene.

The Parliamentary Privileges Committee would report its findings on the Voqere Bainimarama-Pio Tikoduadua tussle and exchanges that occurred on August 9th, the House would debate and accept its findings, and then move on to more pressing issues of state.
Committee members who signed the report  were   Government ministers Veena Bhatnagar, Inia Seruiratu, Dr Mahendra Reddy (who had stepped in to replace the Attorney-General who had volunteered his resignation following Opposition objections to his membership) and Alvick Mararaj.  Opposition members, who did not sign the report, were Adi Litia Qionibaravu and Mosese Bulitavu.

What I didn't see was that the Opposition would use the report to perpetuate the situation, moving an amendment to increase the penalty against the PM while leaving Pio without blame.

The Committee found both parties had breached parliamentary etiquette, recommended  both apologize to Parliament and each other, and that if either declined to do so, he be suspended from Parliament for six months.

Given that the evidence showed Pio had made remarks in the House that could be construed as a personal attack on Voqere's family, and that Voqere had later, outside Parliament, grabbed Pio's jacket, pushing him backwards, presumably for Pio's remarks,  both parties could be seen to share some responsibility for the altercation.

The amendment, moved by SODELPA's Ratu Filipe Tuisawau, however, laid the blame entirely on the PM, saying that only he should apologize, and if he failed to do so, he be suspended from Parliament for two years.

Given that the amendment had no way of being passed, one must assume it was made only to take political advantage of the situation, making a political point that would be heard by all the voting public. Ratu Filipe was  addressing Fiji, not Parliament.

Speaking to the Committee's report or the amendment, SODELPA's Niko Nawaikula called the Committee "evil" and applied different standards to the Opposition. Ro Teimumu Kepa said the PM "feels he is above the law", NFP's Lenora Qereqeretabua thought Bainimarama's attack "premeditated", and Ratu Filipe in his right of reply doubted any apology from Bainiamarama would be genuine. He had not even acknowledged that his 2006 was an act of treason.

NFP's Dr Biman Prasad and SODELPA's 1987 coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka thought the matter should not be debated at all because it was being investigated by the police and the law should take its course. SODELPA's Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu said he had wanted the matter resolved earlier, but its resolution had been obstructed by Bainimarama.

On the other side of the Chamber, Government's Parveen Bala called the amendment a "desperate move" by the Opposition; Selai Adimaitoga said Pio had used the social media to make verbal attacks on the PM; Premila Kumar called the PM a "true leader" who had admitted his fault, apologized to the Speaker and tried to apologize to Tikoduadua; and Alwick Maharaj said the NFP had disrespected the Speaker by not trying to resolve the matter.

So there you have it. The amendment was lost; the Committee's report accepted, and we now wait to see what will happen next.

My opinion is that the amendment was a clever, but not very principled, SODELPA tactic that used Pio and the NFP to besmirch Bainimarama's reputation. It will go over well with many Taukei. I had hoped  the NFP and more moderate elements in SODELPA would have disassociated themselves from the amendment.

-- ACW

UPDATE. From bad to worse. Bainimarama apologizes, Tikoduadua refuses, suspended for six months. Denies referring to Bainimarama's personal family.  
I'm inclined to believe him on what he meant in Parliament on August 9th, but he's done little since to improve relations, and his six months "planting yaqona" will make him a martyr to many. 


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