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Tonga: Talanoa continues in the search for a united government

Democratic Party of the Friendly Isles leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva advocates a broad coalition government. (Photo courtesy of Josephine Latu/Tonga Chronicle.)

Pacific Scoop:
By Josephine Latu, in Nuku’alofa.

Tonga’s elected politicians are beginning to realise they will have to work together if any new government is to be functional, let alone sustainable.

With less than a week to go before elected MPs vote for the new Prime Minister (official nominations will be announced Friday), “unity” has become a stronger and more necessary part of discussions, even as alliances continue to be bargained behind the scenes.

Last week the Democratic Party of the Friendly Isles led by ‘Akilisi Pohiva, called for a Cabinet of National Unity (CNU) comprising a “broad coalition cabinet” of party members, independents and nobles.

In an apparent shift from the strong partisan approach expected from the group, the CNU bid signals an understanding that Tonga may not be ready for a winner-takes-all system of Party politics.

“The members of our Party understand this is a transitional period and what is best for the country now is national unity. We’re in the process of talking things through with other elected MPs as well as the nobles, and will continue talanoa and keep talking until we eventually come to an agreement,” said newly elected Dr Sitiveni Halapua.

“We cannot develop a divided country. Right now it’s about getting the people together at least for the next four years, and then return to having a government and an opposition afterwards,” he continued.

On Friday, Justice Minister Samiu Vaipulu, spokesperson for the alliance recently formed amongst the nobles and some of the independent People’s Representatives, told media their original vision was also to have a mix of elected representatives in Parliament.

“We want to pick the best people to lead this government. And for Prime Minister we sought to pick the best out of the 26 in total,” said Vaipulu.

“It was us [as independent People’s Representatives] who put forth the choice for Prime Minister, rather than the nobles. We didn’t choose this person because of any buddy system or anything like that. We nominated someone who has all the good qualities you expect from a leader… someone who can take care of the 100,000 (population)”.

1)Not giving up power that easily... some of Tonga’s nobility after the noble’s elections on Nov. 25, including King Tupou V’s younger brother Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka (front row, 4th from left), and Lord Tu’ivakano (front row, 2nd from right), widely speculated as a PM nominee. (Photo courtesy of Josephine Latu/Tonga Chronicle.)

The “Independents – Nobles” alliance put forth their official nomination for Prime Minister last Tuesday. But days later a reported member, independent MP ‘Aisake Eke confirmed with Tonga Chronicle that he was still unaligned with any group.

“We have 15 standing together, although there are some who still aren’t sure what side their feet is on,” added Vaipulu at Friday’s press conference.

Three weeks ago, the Democratic Party of the Friendly Isles celebrated what seemed to be a landslide victory at the election polls. Twelve of their 17 members were elected into parliament, with striking upsets in some electorates.

But within days of the election results, the nobles – despite reservations amongst some of their group, including Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka – had quickly moved to consolidate their MPs and lobby those People’s Reps unaligned with Pohiva’s Party.

Two of these “independents” are current Cabinet Ministers. Labour and Commerce Minister Lisiate ‘Akolo and Justice Minister Samiu Vaipulu won majority votes in their respective electorates. Three others had been previously associated in some way with Pohiva’s Party, including former Clerk of the House Dr Viliami Latu, who was publicly named as a Party member until a domestic assault charge saw him dropped from the list (he denies he was in the Party to begin with); long-time ‘Eua People’s Rep Sunia Fili was also ruled out after he “stopped attending Party meetings”; and Fe’ao Vakata, a former communications engineer for the Ministry of Information, who left the group barely a week after election day for unclear reasons. ‘Aisake Eke, former Secretary of Finance, was reportedly approached by Pohiva to be part of the Party before elections, but chose to run independently.

If the nine Nobles’ Reps are able to stick together – and there are signs they are not solidly united – the six independents hold the ability to tip the balance between two likely choices: a government led by a traditionally influential noble (tipped as Lord Tu’ivakano), and one headed by an extreme political activist (most likely the Party leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva). This new Prime Minister will be given powers only recently carved out in constitutional amendments, including his choice of up to 11 cabinet ministers to oversee government operations. One of these seats – Minister of Lands, Survey and Natural Resources – has been legally reserved for the nobility.

Currently, both the Democratic Party and the Independents-Nobles alliance are confident of getting a majority vote for their PM nomination. While all those involved seem to support a model of “power sharing” in terms of Cabinet portfolios, the question of whom to lead them teeters either way.

Noble Fakanua summed up: “It all depends if we can keep to what we agreed with each other in terms of voting. Some may be saying they support an idea, but really they do not…. Fourteen days [between submission of the election writ and the announcement of PM nominations] is a long time for people to change their minds.”

Josephine Latu is the editor of Tonga Chronicle.

1 comment:

  1. Planet Tonga - Largest Online Community for Tongans (Pingback), 15. December 2010, 15:22
     

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