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SODELPA President Ro Teimumu Kepa’s speech at first party meet

June 24, 2013

Let me first acknowledge our guests and ladies and gentleman whom are here this afternoon on the First meeting of   SODELPA Party’s General Assembly.
I also acknowledge the officials and members of the Party and I see among us the presence of the last elected Prime Minister, Mr Laisenia Qarase who is here with us for the first time following his period of incarceration. I will say more about this later. I acknowledge the two Vice Presidents: Ratu Silivenusi Waqausa and Ratu Lote Yavuca, senior officials, and members of the Party, ladies and gentlemen, and friends.
I like especially to thank the Party for the ceremony they accorded me this afternoon which for me, has come unexpectedly. I thought as being your President, and one who has been with you as part of your team for much of this year, this official task is part of my duty as your President. I know that, as this is really the First Special Meeting of our National Assembly for SODELPA Party, you would like to have it conducted in accordance with indigenous Fijian protocol.
Some Trying Times
This year, 2013, it has not been an easy year for the Party. The fact that we are sitting together here with the last elected Prime Minister and founder of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL), a body  which was really the precursor of  SODELPA, but was not allowed to exist with its name, is  indicative of some of the hurdles that were placed in our path, some of which no other Party had to endure but which we confronted  and overcame with minimum fuss. Two Decrees were placed in our path in order to register as a political party (Decree 4 and Decree 11 of 2013)
The Decrees required us to do certain things in order to remain as a political party:  to have an  English name and not  an indigenous Fijian one; to make a fresh application for registration supported by at least 5000 signatures of supporters from all of the four administrative regions of the country; to pay $5005 as application fee; to require party  officials to publicly declare all their assets and those of their spouses and children; as well as meet  many other requirements during the specified registration period, the breach of which attracted ridiculously high penalties including the threat of de-registration  of  parties.
The requirements for registration and in under the Decrees, according to a group of international Senior Lawyers were among the most restrictive internationally, and they were way out of line with international norms.
Despite all these, we were able to get our Party registered on May 6th as a new Party altogether, with a new name, a new abbreviation (SODELPA), a new symbol and a new Constitution .For those who knew the old SDL party would know that many of the principles of the old party are embodied in the new Party and other changes which have been brought in,  as part of our   response to new requirements of the electoral roll which was  reflected in the recommendation of the  Peoples  Draft Constitution (Ghai Draft, 2012).
I understand that we have done so well in getting our Party registered that together with the other three parties, that the Regime is astounded that all the mainline parties are popular that they have been able tosign up members and supporters of at least 5000 voters each within the time period  required. Now the Regime is supposedly the only mainline party that is now awaiting registration. The Regime has been subject to calls that they too should now subject themselves to the same rigid application procedures and the unrealistic    assets disclosure requirements, that  has now become a source of  embarrassment to them.
The shoe is now on the other foot so to say, and we have been commended by NGO’s and some international partners, in how our political parties have dealt with a difficult situation under the harassment and intimidation of the Regime.
In yesterday’s Fiji times (Tuesday,June 18th) for example, the Director of  the Citizens Constitutional Forum ,Rev Akuila Yabaki, a noted critic of the  then SDL Party wrote in a Letter to the Editor column and  said this about the constitution of SODELPA:
“ I find it encouraging to note how political parties are making the changes in their constitutions. I have noted for instance how SODELPA Party has made the same transition in its newly revised Constitution.
Once a party that avowedly represented the interests of just iTaukei and Rotuman people, it now aims to secure the greatest number of seat in the next general elections and to show exemplary political leadership which reflects the multiracial nature of Fiji society. The Party is determined to forge strong, united and multiracial Fiji and intends to pursue dialogue and negotiation to achieve peaceful solutions to Fiji’s Challenges…”
Despite difficult times, our party has been able to do what is required for the task to serve the best interests of our people.
Some Necessary Constitutional Amendments:
Since we have been registered on May 3rd 2013, we have accelerated our work on the visitation of old branches under the SDL and the setting up of new braches altogether under the SODELPA structure. In this task we face some restrictions and the purpose of this Special Meeting of the National Assembly is to provide greater flexibility in some of the provisions which have been set perhaps too rigidly.
In parts, we have provided greater flexibility in the provisions of membership of the Management Board which runs the day to day operation of the Party and its working Committee called the National Executive Committee or NEC.
A full  list of  members of the Management Board has been approved  which enables it to function right away given the urgency of the Party to be ‘in full flight’ so to say, for the impending general elections in September 2014.
It is also proposed   that the Management Board is to appoint a Selection Committee for the Party Leader. The Selection Committee is expected to consult widely and recommend a suitable candidate for final approval by the General Assembly   which will recommend a name for approval by the General Assembly. This will be the first Party Leader for SODELPA   in what is expected to be one of the most difficult general elections in the twenty six years since 1987.
United Front for Democratic Fiji (UFDF) 
I shall mention perhaps only briefly about the United Front for Democratic Fiji which started as an umbrella organization of then three existing parties: the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua, the Fiji  Labour Party, National Federation Party and the then United Peoples  Party  of Mr Mick Beddoes which is no longer in operation as it did not meet the requirement s of the recent Political Parties Registration Decree of 2013.

However, the remaining political parties continue to exist and SODELPA has replaced the SDL in that organization.This body has also included a  Trade Union Body known as Fiji Council of Trade Unions or FICTU.

The UFDF is not a political Party as such; it is a broad umbrella organization with a specific purpose in coordinating the actions of the bodies concerned against the Regime and in coordinating the activities of the group in the restoration of democracy in Fiji.
Under the difficult situation we are in, the body has served us well and there is a great deal of interest in other like- minded bodies to join it which gives it greater leverage and power to enable the Group to co-or ordinate their activities and for the achievement of its goals. Our Party is strengthened by  its  involvement  with this group and the Management of the Party is kept fully informed about its agenda and activities and through it, the Party maintains its  its  leadership role in the affairs of the country in line with its  size and support  in the country, together with other mainline parties and groups. Given the situation we are in, I have faith that the outcome of the work of this group will be beneficial to the Party and to all our people in our efforts to bring back  democracy to our land.
Where to from here?
I do not have a crystal ball to see what lies ahead but it is becoming very clear that the Regime has failed the people of Fiji in coming up with a Constitution in the time they had promised. Instead of June 2013, they are now talking about September which is hardly a year before their widely publicized  election date.
They had scrapped what would have been an excellent constitution which correctly reflected the wishes of the majority of the people of Fiji which  was referred to as the Peoples Draft (or Ghai Draft,2012). They had also scrapped the Constituent Assembly set up initially to consider the Peoples Draft, and in doing so they have remove the last effective and meaningful mechanism to safeguard the interest of the people in a democracy.
What is left therefore, is only the whims of the regime and everywhere in the world where this happens, they usually act in their own interest, and not in the best interest of the people. This is where the Party is looking at various actions and options like a referendum for example, as a means of guaranteeing that whatever constitution is imposed on the people is also acceptable to the people, and nothing less!
I am comforted by the fact that the Party has what it takes in experience, intellect and courage to ensure that we demand and get what is rightfully ours as the people of Fiji. This   includes   the requirements for independence and transparency process involved in the elections, which should also meet international standards,  along the lines recommended in the Peoples  Draft of 2012. Nothing less is acceptable and everything must be done within the agreed time guidelines of September, 2014.
In concluding, I like to leave a very important issue last not because it is of least importance but rather because of its significance to all of us in the Party  and  for  all  the people who support democracy locally and internationally. We have with us for the first time in our General Assembly, the last elected Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase.
Our Party officials, and friends of the Party have visited his home in Moti Street to  welcome him on his return.

We thank God he is well and healthy and cheerful, and we also thank God for his contributions to the Party that is now part of our tradition in SODELPA. SODELPA carries with it some of the principles and the values that SDL, that he formed some 12 years ago.

I am grateful about his willingness to be involved as a member of the new Party but the restrictions of the Political Parties   Decree makes him ineligible for holding an official position in the Party. But his willingness to be involved as an ordinary member apart from his advice on some issues will be invaluable. For that  I am grateful and I ask all the members present to welcome him and wish him continuing good health and that of his  wife Leba Qarase, and the family.
Mr Qarase will remain an icon and a symbol of hope for democracy and like Mr Mahendra Chaudhry and the late Dr Timoci Bavadra before him, who were all elected leaders but were deposed illegally by military actions.

That should be a lesson to us all that we should be vigilant in defending democracy and ensure that that we do not allow the military or any such other illegal forces whatever their form or intentions, to undermine the will of the people to decide  freely who should govern them.

Finally, I hope that all that we have resolved today will ensure that our Party will be in a good position to carry out the tasks entrusted us to do, whatever it takes under the law, to return Fiji into a peaceful, prosperous and united country,  at the very least, by the end of September ,2014.
Vinaka Vakalevu.
Source – Coupfourpointfive; Posted by Rusi Varani for SWM
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