Fiji’s coalition trinity means ‘more cooks’ but Rabuka confident on future

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The first time Sitiveni Rabuka was elected into office was more than 30 years ago. Today marks a little over a month since he became Fiji’s Prime Minister for a second time. He catches up with Tagata Pasifika’s John Pulu to discuss his return to office, Fiji’s covid-19 recovery and the investigation of Fiji’s former attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

By John Pulu, Tagata Pasifika presenter/reporter/director

It’s been a busy start for the newly elected leader of Fiji, Sitiveni Rabuka.

And while he’s only held the role for a little over a month, walking into the Prime Minister’s office felt familiar for the leader of the People’s Alliance (PA) party.

“The office dynamics are still the same,” he says.

Public Interest Journalism Fund
PUBLIC INTEREST JOURNALISM FUND

“It was just like going back to an old car or an old bicycle that you have driven before or ridden before.

“The people are new…[there’s] possible generational difficulties and views but I have not encountered any since the month I came into the office.”

However, his journey into office was not an easy one. After the initial tally of votes at last years’ December election, neither Rabuka nor his predecessor Voreqe Bainimarama had gained a comfortable majority to take Parliament.

Sodelpa (Social Democratic Liberal Party) became the kingmakers, voting to form a coalition with the PA, and they were joined by the National Federation Party (NFP).

Bainimarama out of office
For the first time since 2014, Bainimarama was out of office. Rabuka says they have not spoken since the election.

“There has been no communication since the outcome,” he says.

“It was something I tried to encourage when I was in the opposition and opposition leader, for across-the-floor discussions on matters that affect the nation.

“We grew up in the same profession…we are friends,” Rabuka insists.

Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka talking to Tagata Pasifika
Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka talking to Tagata Pasifika . . . returning to office as PM is like “going back to an old car . . . you have driven before”. Image: TP Plus screenshot APR

However, there’s plenty else to keep Rabuka busy at this time.

The coalition trinity means more cooks in the kitchen, but Rabuka is confident that they can work together to lead Fiji.

“I worked with the National Federation Party in 1999. Sodelpa was the party I helped to register,” he recalls.

‘Differences in past’
“There might have been differences in the past but we are still family and it’s only natural for us to come together and work together again.”

They’ve already enacted a number of changes including lifting a ban on a number of Fijians who were exiled by the previous government.

“It’s interesting that many of those returning thought they were on a blacklist,” Rabuka muses.

“When we asked Immigration, Immigration [said] ‘there is no such thing as a blacklist, or anyone being prohibited from coming back’.

“They all came back and they were very happy. But it also reflected the freedom in the atmosphere.”

And speaking of freedom, investigations into former attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum have reportedly been suspended.

Under investigation
According to FBC News, Sayed-Khaiyum was under investigation for allegedly inciting communal antagonism.

Rabuka says Sayed-Khaiyum is a person of interest, but isn’t yet subjected to any prosecution processes at this time.

“But if it develops from there, there might be restrictions on his movement – particularly out of Fiji.”

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air. Republished from Tagata Pasifika with permission.

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