Fiji made a dramatic change in its Cabinet in September.
Apart from re-jigging some portfolios, the most prominent was the transfer of Foreign Affairs Minister Inoke Kubuabola as Immigration, National Security and Defence Minister. The impact of this change was hardly noticed by the media and political commentators.
The assumption of foreign affairs segment by Prime Minister Josiah Voreqe Bainimarama and capping Inoke Kubuabola as his National Security, Defence and Immigration aide has far-reaching significance in domestic and foreign policies.
The Cabinet reshuffle is a sign of Bainimarama’s political maturity and an inclination towards nipping the growth of chiefly influences, provincial fissures and ethnically based utterances that are inherent in Fiji’s politics.
As the first Divisional Welfare Officer, Northern in Fiji’s civil service in early 1970s, I had met Inoke’s father, a humble, amiable scion of Cakandrove Province.
He had asked me to meet with his young, educated son.
That opportunity came when Inoke invited me to attend the breakfast meetings of the Bible Society in Suva.
Since those early days, Inoke was a prominent politician in the Alliance Party, an activist for the ‘Taukei Movement’ and later as a Minster in the post-coup Rabuka, Mara and Qarase regimes. He is in fact a pragmatic nationalist.
Cakandrove, the third arm of the Eastern Chieftain Confederacy, has been the home of several well-known chiefly clans such as the Ganilaus and Lalabalavus.
It is also the birthplace of Sitiveni Rabuka, the primal coup leader and a sizeable number of top military and civilian personnel. Cakaudrove is a volatile geographical enclave that also provided the fodder for several incidences of insurrection in Fiji.
In the post-election period, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, a quiet conservative exercised more power in the affairs of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) than its anointed leader, Ro Teimumu Kepa.
With the assumption of the Presidency of SODELPA by Sitiveni Rabuka early this year, Cakaudrove’s hold on the Party is complete.
Ostensibly, Rabuka’s ascension as the leader of SODELPA was described as of little political effect; but an ethnically based political party of Taukeis with Rabuka and Lalabalavu at its command, can rake up enough dust to destabilise Fiji’s politics.
Indo-Fijian based parties are in disarray and would look at any opportunity to get into the limelight, including associating with SODELPA to combat the overall multi-ethnic support of the Fiji First Party.
The recent participation of the amorphous group of Opposition leaders on a platform provided by the NGO, Pacific Dialogue to discuss Fiji’s Constitution was an ill-timed, divisive project that did not have the tacit approval of the Government.
The Pacific Dialogue meeting was neither intended to be Pacific nor a dialogue.
Despite the Constitution providing for an avenue of periodical review, the meeting would have accorded an opportunity for the Opposition leaders to air their assumed grievances in the public with the intent presumably of highlighting the abatement of citizenry rights in anticipation of the coming General Elections in 1918.
The Government naturally pounced on a procedural requirement of the NGO’s failure to obtain a police permit contrary to the Public Order Decree to hold such a politically infected discussion and detained five of the participants.
It is ironical that leaders with a strong symbiosis with trade union and political management failed to check the bureaucratic compliance machinery.
It is apparent that there are incidences of seditious activities both in Fiji and abroad and Bainimarama had to issue a warning that those responsible will tracked and punished.
It is in this context that the appointment of Inoke Kubuabola as the Minister of National Security and Defence can provide an effective counter balance of protective defence against the possible provocative utterances and actions of the old leaders vying to take over the helm of Fiji’s governance.
Any visible increase in support for SODELPA will dilute the strength of the Fiji First Party.
The Defence and National Security Ministry has a wider and more extensive reach and hold over Fiji’s domestic matrix.
It can access its own sources of sensitive intelligence together with community resources to help in intelligence gathering. This would assist the Fiji First Party in keeping a tab on the evolving political manoeuvres at grass root as well as at national levels.
Additional reading: Fiji revisits friendship and foreign policy under Viewlink.
Mahendra Sukhdeo is a Fiji-born academic, writer, researcher and author. He is an astute observer of Fiji politics. The scone edition of his book, ‘Aryan Avatars,’ published by USP is now available at its Bookstore in Suva, Fiji.
Bainimarama introduces Inoke Kubuabola and other ministers to John Key and his delegation (not seen here) at his Office in Suva on June 10, 2016.