Ratu Cokanauto Tu’uakitau (5 June 1945 – 13 September 2023) was a distinguished Fijian chief and politician. He was a significant political figure who navigated the complex landscapes of Fijian politics through different roles, from election campaigns to ministerial appointments.
Early Life and Family Background
Born into a family of notable significance, Ratu Cokanauto was the son of Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau, a former Deputy Prime Minister and one of modern Fiji’s founding fathers. His brother, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, served as the President of Fiji from 2009 to 2015. Such a lineage bestowed upon him a legacy of leadership and a commitment to public service.
The 1999 Election and Aftermath
In the 1999 parliamentary election, Ratu Cokanauto, representing the Fijian Association Party (FAP), won the Tailevu North Ovalau Open constituency on a recount, having initially lost by just two votes. Although the FAP was part of the victorious People’s Coalition, he was not included in the new Cabinet led by Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.
Following disagreements over party nominations to the Senate and leadership style, Ratu Cokanauto challenged Deputy Prime Minister and Fijian Affairs Minister Adi Kuini Speed for the leadership of the FAP on 11 September 1999. He briefly ousted her, but the High Court later ruled in Speed’s favor. This led Ratu Cokanauto and his supporters to form a breakaway faction of the FAP, moving to the Opposition benches in January 2000.
Interim Government and 2001 Election
In the turbulent period following the failed coup, Ratu Cokanauto was appointed to the Cabinet of Interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase on 19 July 2000. He served as the Minister for Local Government, Housing, and the Environment. His brother, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, was also a part of this interim government as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs.
Ratu Cokanauto contested the September 2001 general election as an independent candidate but was defeated by Josefa Vosanibola, a member of Qarase’s party, the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua.
Beyond his political career, Ratu Cokanauto continued to serve the Fijian community. As of June 2005, he was serving as a director of the Native Land Trust Board, an organization responsible for administering the majority of the land communally owned by indigenous Fijians.
Death and Legacy
Ratu Cokanauto Tu’uakitau passed away on 13 September 2023, at the age of 78. His death marked the end of a life devoted to public service, political engagement, and community leadership. His contributions to Fijian politics and society remain a vital part of his legacy.