Fiji Labour Party Leader Mahendra Chaudhry has thrown his support behind Ratu Epeli Nailatikau to become Fiji’s next President.
In April Nailatikau was appointed by self-appointed and now retired President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to be the Vice President. He is currently the acting President after Iloilo was forced into retirement by the regime last week.
On 29th July, Chaudhry told Radio New Zealand that while it wasn’t fair to comment on Iloilo’s performance as President, Nailatikau should be the next Head of State of Fiji as “he has all the right qualities”.
Chaudhry described Nailatikau as a “seasoned person” having served as military commander, a diplomat and Speaker of Fiji’s House of Representatives, saying he hopes Nailatikau is confirmed to the position.
Nailatikau was the commander of the Royal Fiji Military Forces when Sitiveni Rabuka toppled the NFP/Labour Coalition government of Dr Timoci Bavadra in May 1987. Chaudhry was the Finance Minister in Bavadra’s government.
After Rabuka’s coup, Nailatikau had requested New Zealand and Australian armed forces not to take military action against Fiji and leave the matter to sort out by itself.
This was seen by Chaudhry as complicity and support of the coup by Nailatikau because Rabuka was ranked 3rd in RFMF. Chaudhry had accused Nailatikau, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Ratu Penaia Ganilau of having knowledge about the coup and his accusations are public and well documented. Nailatikau was in Australia in May 1987.
He, like Ratu Epeli Ganilau is Ratu Mara’s son-in-law, married to Adi Koila Mara Nailatikau. Adi Koila was a senior Cabinet Minister in Chaudhry’s Labour government after 1999 general election, despite not being a coalition partner of FLP before the election.
Nailatikau served as Deputy Prime Minister in Laisenia Qarase’s interim government after the May 2000 coup that was appointed by Bainimarama.
Chaudhry and Nailatikau were colleagues in Bainimarama’s interim Cabinet for 18 months.
Sources say Chaudhry’s support for Nailatikau means he doesn’t believe in the rule of law and does not care if Nailatikau is appointed as President through a Decree.
According to sources, Chaudhry, while mildly critical of the regime in the last three months, is a political opportunist and must seen an opportunity for him to regain some power and clout in the regime under Nailatikau’s Presidency.