Democracy wins at the ballot box

Newshub NZ journalist, Michael Morrah, interviewing Tonga’s Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva. Photograph: Michael Morrah.

There’s something seriously wrong with your country’s democracy when the stand-out minister for the Tongan government, former Deputy Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni, is fired by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva over fallacious accusations, and media kerbs a critical inquiry.  Who fabricated the rumours and for what purpose?

Pohiva had been handed an axe to grind.  The pro-government website Kaniva Tonga reported on September 4th that Sovaleni along with former finance minister Tevita Lavemaau knew that King Tupou VI in Privy Council was dissolving parliament on August 25th on the Speaker Lord Tu’ivakano’s advice.  The Prime Minister alleged they didn’t forewarn him.

Tuth: the Prime Minister got fed a whopper.  Eagerly he swallowed the bait, hook, line, and sinker, exposing a personal interest in such a political execution.  Fact: if their former boss had no idea what was coming, it’s simply not possible they’d know.

We mean to say, Pohiva’s the direct line of communication between his cabinet and King Tupou VI.  He’s responsible for regularly meeting with the Head of State, and, he’s the government spokesperson to parliament’s speaker.

Lord Tu’ivakano came out of his corner a tad hot under the collar.  Tuesday September 12th, the speaker launched a missile press statement on the website of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga.  He was on a mission “to clarify and set the record straight as it is important that people know the truth.”  So he remarked.

Tonga’s Speaker of Parliament and former Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Lord Tu’ivakano, has dismissed as false, unfounded, and utterly untrue, claims by the Hon. Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, that the former Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni, and former Minister of Finance & National Planning, Hon. Tevita Lavemaau were involved in, and knew about, advice he had given to his Majesty, King Tupou VI, that resulted in the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga with effect from 24 August 2017.

Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga

 

Tu’ivakano’s truth-telling was polemical.  It was an act of speech colliding head-first into the main event unsettling the country, which really, he wasn’t going to talk about.

Explain the political manoeuvring wiping out the legislature and government, given the process for dissolving parliament was high-handed and devoid of any measure of transparency?  Put bluntly, the process of dissolution contradicted democracy.

Tu’ivakano’s media release cleared Sovaleni and Lavemaau’s names for sure, and freed him from any connection to the falsehood behind Pohiva sacking these two former ministers.  But by no means did his discussion touch on a blind ambush terminating the House and cabinet.

Noble MPs, Lord Tu’i’afitu, Lord Fusitu’a, and Lord Tu’ivakano. Photograph: Fusitu’a.

Neither did his testament let two noble MPs, Lord Tu’ilakepa and Lord Fusitu’a, off the hook.  Rumoured was they’d egged him on to get the King to dissolve parliament “at his pleasure,” as cited in section 38 of the constitution.

Questionably, on the exact day of which Pohiva told the media he’d sacked Sovaleni and Lavemaau before notifying them officially on paper, Radio Australia recorded Fusitu’a refuting the noble MPs were implicated in the controversy.  Why wouldn’t he plead innocence?

For representatives of the nobility to be actors in a dissolution script, exceeds unethical conduct by breaching the parliamentarians’ oath of duty not to bring the House into disrepute.  It spells out political corruption.

To clarify, swaying the legislature’s speaker to expel a government by way of the monarch’s executive power, which is a personal entitlement, and not a privilege subject to the procedures of a parliamentary democracy – namely scrutiny, transparency, and accountability – is corrupt.  Period.

Complicating the plot was Fusitu’a’s claim that “concerns among not just the nobles but a number of people’s reps also” were sympathetic to the King’s “constitutional order within his personal prerogative powers.”

It wasn’t true.  “A number of people’s reps?”  No.  Pure fiction.  Not one of the peoples MPs in opposition cheered for the legislative assembly’s dissolution and government’s expulsion; nor had they discussed it prior to it happening.

Fusitu’a’s media pitch created a consensus with people’s representatives that didn’t exist in reality.  His list of complaints about Pohiva’s government, and views on disassembling the legislature were his opinions, and not those of other politicians.

Misleadingly the Radio Australia discussion came across as if he represented parliament’s voice.  He had no mandate to speak for the nobles or the people’s representatives in opposition.  Was this a deliberate media strategy to silence MPs who disagreed with him by speaking over them?

Here’s the jab: were Fusitu’a’s concerns fed to Tu’ivakano as political fuel to ignite the dissolution clause?

Tu’ivakano wouldn’t answer to the allegations, and likewise for Privy Council.  Added to that, a member of Privy Council was Fusitu’a father-in-law, Tevita Tupou.  If the speaker was genuine in avowing, “One of the core principles of democracy is the separation of powers,” then a conflict of interest appeared to be staring him in the face.

The silence spoke volumes, and cast a shadow of doubt over the integrity of the motives for dissolution in the first place.

Prime Minister Pohiva and his son-in-law, police minister Mateni Tapueluelu at parliament’s opening 2017. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

 

 

The aftermath saw a sacked Prime Minister and his Democratic Party ministers desperately scheming for re-election.  As a result, Tongans were deeply polarised over what had been forced upon them.

A minority of the Tongan population at home and overseas were conservative right in their political leaning.  An overwhelming majority were leftist and centrist on the political spectrum.

Did the social divisions connect?  Yes.  On one important intersection.  Tongans remain wary as to what they can say in public on the King authorising parliament’s demise.  Ordinary people are guarded, exercising caution when querying the rulings of top-down power.

Why?  There’s little reason to trust who’s listening, watching, and reporting back to the hierarchy.  No matter how greatly an open society is desired, in a class war where the dominant power, which is a minority group, control the population, mistrust and Machiavellian shrewdness override the political landscape.

The speaker’s testimony highlighted that two separate issues of dissolving parliament and Pohiva’s sackings were tangled in a complicated knot.  There was nothing tidy, clear-cut, and procedural about the country’s messy state of affairs.

The Prime Minister’s hare-brained intelligence came from scandalmongers.  Despite Tu’ivakano’s scorching statement laying the blame on Pohiva, there were MPs involved in a dastardly plot.  The question was, who?  Excluding the speaker, was false communication transacted from the nobility to government?

Poking around the dark crevices of dirty politics is essential at a crucial time in which Tonga is crossing a makeshift bridge to a snap election on November 16th.  Voters can’t be vulnerable to deception in any way, shape, or form.

Vital to a fair and free election is that every voter is enabled to make an informed decision without political coercion.

In no uncertain terms should people be put under duress to elect candidates favoured by the monarchy, nobility, and Privy Council because their ideologies are aligned with the upper conservative class.  Such a contentious situation contravenes the democratic liberty to vote without subjugation to strong-arm tactics and bullying.

Let’s be honest: aggressive politics have seized the country in a chokehold.  An ideological battle is playing out.  On one side there’s the conservative right of the monarchy and the nobility.  Their identity is tied to a belief they possess the constitutional privilege to rule the land and the people, as they wish.

Further to this, the upper class is dead set against leftist politics, epitomized by Pohiva’s Democratic Party.  Why is the left looked down upon as venom?  For upholding the ideal of a Western liberal democracy.

A liberal democracy in Tonga’s case would mean a fully elected parliament of 26 peoples representatives, voted in by the people’s mandate at the ballot box.  A significant disagreement pivots on conceptualising structural and social change.  Largely because a liberal democracy challenges the relevance of the 9 seats allocated to noble MPs in the parliamentary arrangement.

Questions pertinent to a national discussion have yet to be publicly raised and reasonably answered.  How defensible is it to have 9 special seats for nobles in respect to proportional representation in the House?  By this, if the number of title and estate holders is 30 men, then how does Tonga’s democratic arrangement justify 9 nobles seats compared to 17 for the peoples MPs representing the voting majority of 57,391 people?

King Tupou VI. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Tensions shaping Tonga’s snap election on November 16th have overlapped with the suspected political meddling in New Zealand’s general election that took place on September 23rd.

A week before voters went to the polls on Sunday 17 September, Manase Lua, a Maori Party candidate standing for Maungakiekei electorate in Auckland, spun a whale of a tale.  Scoop Politics printed his press release.

 

Tuheitia Potatau Te Wherowhero VII prior to the election made a royal decree to his people.  His royal command was for Maori to support the Maori Party and not Labour.  He believed that Labour has not done enough for Maori and abandoned them.  To further reinforce his message, he reached across the Pacific to his fellow Royalty in the Kingdom of Tonga.  He made a request for His Majesty King Tupou VI to ask his subjects living in Aotearoa to join and provide a Tongan candidate to stand for the Maori Party.  The King of Tonga answered the call.  Manase Nehemaia Lua is the chosen Tongan candidate blessed by the Royal Houses and as a Matapule of Ma’afu Tuku’iaulahi has both the professional and traditional skills to represent Tongans in Aotearoa.

Manase Lua

 

Bruce Hill for Radio Australia got the only mainstream media interview with Manase Lua on Tuesday 19 September.  Speculated was that Lua withdrew from a One News interview with TVNZ after the Hill discussion went public.

The contention hinged on Hill asking for proof that the Tongan monarch had backed him.  Lua retorted by accusing New Zealand’s Labour Party of plotting against his parliamentary campaign.

 

So you’ll have to go straight to the King and ask the King yourself.  The proof is I’m saying if you want to find out for yourself from the King, go and ask the King.  I’m probably thinking that Labour’s behind this as well.  No big secret that Melino is a staunch Labour person.  So if they’ve got anything, in terms of concerns with moves between the King of Tonga and the Maori King here in terms of Maori King here, go to them.

Manase Lua

 

Thursday 21 September, two days out to Saturday’s general election, Maori Party President, Tukuroirangi Morgan, amplified the conflict.  Instead of resolving the issue of whether Tonga’s King gave his endorsement, Radio New Zealand reported Morgan’s contradictory tale.

It was of no “concern” to him if King Tupou VI had or hadn’t supported Lua’s candidacy.  What mattered was that the leader for the Kingitanga movement of Maori tribes in the Waikato/Tainui area, sought “a shared approach to the parliamentary process in New Zealand” from the Tongan King and the Samoan Head of State.

“A shared approach” between Tuheitia and Tonga and Samoa’s Heads of State set-off alarm bells for New Zealand.  This was political meddling of a dubious nature.

Morgan didn’t seem to register that it was wrong for any Head of State to be interfering in another country’s election.  In a democratic nation that protects the right of citizens to vote freely in elections, it’s unthinkable that the Tongan King would instruct Tongans in New Zealand on which party and candidate to vote for.

 

The New Zealand Maori party president says it’s not his concern whether the Tongan king endorsed one of his candidates or not.  Mr Morgan says the two kings spoke at the funeral of the Tongan Queen Mother in March.  “In that conversation was an earnest desire by Kingi Tuheitia to King Tupou VI and [the] Samoa Head of State that there should be a shared approach to the parliamentary process in New Zealand.  Mr Morgan said Mr Maka’s comments are inconsequential.

Radio New Zealand

 

On the same day published on the same media outlet, Tonga’s Consul General in Auckland, Stafford ‘Aho, clarified the discrepancy to Radio New Zealand.

 

Tonga’s Consulate in Auckland has denied claims made by Maori Party candidate Manase Lua that he was endorsed by King Tupou VI ahead of New Zealand’s election on Saturday.

Radio New Zealand

Tonga Consul General to New Zealand, Stafford ‘Aho (right), with One Pacific and Maori Party members at ‘Atalanga, Auckland. Photograph: Manase Lua.

Come Friday 22 September, one day before New Zealanders went to the polls, Labour MP William Sio argued back to Manase Lua attacking his party’s political integrity.  Philip Cass for Kaniva Tonga did the write up.

 

Mangere Labour MP Aupito William Sio has hit out at claims by Tongan Maori Party candidate Manase Lua that Labour has done nothing for Pasifika people.  “They [the Maori Party] are responsible for the growing unequal society we now have,” Sio said.

Philip Cass

 

After the election result on Saturday night, Maori Television recorded a revealing interview with Nanaia Mahuta, which was published on Sunday 24 September.  She spoke candidly about the Maori Party wielding Tuheitia and his elitist ties to the Tongan and Samoan Heads of State.

A Labour MP, Mahuta contested and won the Maori seat for Waikato/Hauraki.  She didn’t mix her words.  Straight up, she told Tuheitia’s advisors to resign.  In the people’s eyes, their political actions had tarnished the brand of the Kingitanga movement.

 

Clearly the advice that was received by the King [Tuheitia] was delusional, confused, and wrong, and the people felt a strong sense of discomfort that the Kingitanga as a movement was positioned as a political party.  It is not.  Those advisors should step down immediately.  The Kingitanga is a movement.  It is not a political party.

Nanaia Mahuta

 

There’s a lesson in this for Tonga’s nobility and Privy Council.  Playing political roulette with the King’s “personal prerogative powers” to cancel out a government disliked by the upper class has risks and costs.  The biggest expense to the country is that entrenching social divisions across the population, guarantees the poorest communities suffering at the bottom of the economic hierarchy will continue to be entrenched in poverty and inequality.

Peoples and Nobles Representatives at parliament’s opening 2017. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Globally, independent elections raise a standard expectation.  The public have to trust their vote is for a rational candidate campaigning on a policy manifesto, and not a precarious personality pushing pie-in-the-sky promises.

An important information exchange is that voters request that candidates cost their policies down to every dollar.  Whether they’re independent or members of political parties, costing policies in an election matters.  It gives the candidate public credibility and transparency.

Given the national budget for the 2017 to 2018 financial year was almost $596 million pa’anga, what would each policy area cost the country?  What’s the rationale used to validate public benefit?

As for the nobles election, that’s taken a turn for the worse.  They’ve got their internal divisions to sort.  There’s the senior generation of Tongatapu nobles with cabinet experience and maturity.  Vaea, Ma’afu, Tu’ivakano, and Nuku were noble MPs during the 2010 reform in which parliament was reconfigured to 17 peoples seats to their 9.

Then there’s minor aristocrats from the outer island estates.  Separate out Tu’iha’angana and Tu’i’a’fitu from this faction of the landed gentry, and they’re overreaching to bid to be in the next government.

After Tu’ilakepa and Fusitu’a’s suspected association with the speaker acting on parliament’s dissolution, their moral integrity is debatable.

Collectively, they hold no experience as cabinet ministers or governors.  Also, it must be questioned if they have the wisdom, patience, good sense, and tolerance for a diverse parliament of different worldviews and political beliefs.

This reads like a Game of Thrones script: which is the lesser peril?  Stick with the elders.  It minimises the risk of impulsive mistakes caused by inadequate decision making.  With Tongatapu’s senior nobles, at least the public know the established track record and leadership styles sitting on the opposition bench.

Aftermath of the Nuku’alofa riot of November 16th 2006. Photograph: Salvation Army New Zealand.

November 16th is a controversial date.  It’s Black Thursday; the day in 2006 when Nuku’alofa erupted into violent rioting and looting.  80% of the central business district was burnt to the ground.

Populist views blame the civil riot on Pohiva’s radical leftist politics pushing hard and fast for democratic reform, which is what the upper class conveniently believes to this present day because it alleviates them from social responsibility.  Really, the tension trigger was economic reform, first adopted in 2005 by neo-liberal policies.

Two governments lead by King Tupou VI and Feleti Sevele put into effect an austere tax regime.  Goods and services tax (GST) and a farmers tax penalised the poorest of the poor struggling in an open market economy favouring the upper end of the business class.

Divisions between classes deepened.  Compounding social inequality was talk inside government of redundancies in the civil service, a corporate agenda of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the World Bank.  Clearly the state employees union saw that striking for wage increases was a direct course of action against the government.

With all of these factors crashing into a cesspit of unresolved conflict and hostility against the government’s top-down policies, the stage was set for civil unrest exploding on November 16th.

Mike Harman’s discussion paper, Tongan Riots 2006, explained civil unrest in the Pacific context of neoliberalism and its discontents.

 

The Tongan riot is part of a wider surge in class struggle in the Pacific since 2005.  Since this date, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and Tahiti have experienced major strikes, and Tonga and the Solomons have experienced riots.  More unrest and IMF style riots are likely, as neoliberal market reforms imposed by the IMF and the World Bank have savagely cut the living standards of Pacific people, while enriching island elites.  Increasingly, island elites lack the resources to control their own population, hence Australia and New Zealand have sent troops to prop up unpopular regimes and to repress popular movements.  It will be interesting to see how this rebellion develops in the Pacific.

Mike Harman

Australian Defence Force called in by the former Prime Minister Feleti Sevele during the aftermath of the November 16th civil riot. Photograph: Australian Defence Force.

Of course an effective way to develop a rebellion is to get elected to government with the popular support of the voting population.  This is precisely what’s upset the applecart, urging the speaker and his alleged clique of nobles to bring down the government.

To rename Black Thursday as Election Day 2017 is therefore, purely political.  A deliberate strategy to rewrite history by erasing social memory, it attempts to change the narrative.  In actuality, all it does is shift the plot from a dreadful day of biblical proportion, to only God knows what’s in store for Tonga.

What did we learn from rashly making up a new storyline?  It is not a good plan to not have a good plan.  Solid facts and evidence constitute sound planning.

Without it, you’re gambling that constructing the past to suit your side of an antagonistic story will bring about the change you’re hoping for.  Hope does not constitute state policy and procedure.  It’s inept to not have evidence-based credibility by international governance standards.

Clumsily changing the narrative doesn’t barricade the hard truth from rattling the cage of a political zoo.  Because in no uncertain terms should parliamentarians cultivate giant fibs about people they perceive as rival MPs.  This magnitude of lying is just plain corrupt.

At its worst, the Sovaleni and Lavemaau sackings resemble an unscrupulous manoeuvre to knock down opponents so the nobility of the conservative right, just as much as the radical leftist Democratic Party led by Pohiva, can take over the next government.

What would be an underhanded tactic to try that on for size?  Eliminate major players considered to be the competition in that very bid for power.

Nobles and Peoples Representatives at parliament’s opening 2017. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Our point: devious political behaviour serves the country’s interests if Tonga’s national strategy is to demoralise democracy and debilitate the economy by setting up governments of weak, corrupt leadership.

Collapsing an elected government loathed by the Lord Speaker of Parliament and the noble MPs who supposedly advised him, along with the Privy Council, is dangerously on the road to achieving that.

What is our goal as a nation, Tonga?  At the grassroots level, Tongans seldom ask.  Subsequently, parliamentarians have not made it a priority conversation for their electorates.  Not until now.

The glaring reality for Tongans is that we can’t sit back and watch noble politicians and the King in Privy Council embark on an off-the-cuff decree to dissolve parliament.  Their decision-making must be defined and confined by a clear method with legal provisions in the constitution, which are publicly transparent and strictly adhere to due process.  Otherwise, democracy is meaningless.

King Tupou VI at parliament’s opening 2017. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Who represents the Tongan population in the political system?  The 17 elected representatives to parliament from the people’s constituencies.

The abysmal fact, however, is that there are restraints on challenging and criticising the covert workings of an elite group of men – the nobility and Privy Council members – who influence the King’s assent to their political agendas.

In spite of calls for press freedom under Pohiva’s regime, why does the Tongan media shush in public or soften their words when commenting on King Tupou VI’s “personal prerogative powers” to dissolve parliament?  The constitution prevents harsh public criticism of the monarch and the royal family.

However, silence is a political response in itself, denoting a quiet resistance to the dominant power.

Because here’s the thing.  The political upheaval of dissolving Tonga’s national assembly and dismantling the government was over a fundamental democratic process that the legislature should’ve put into practice.  It’s mortifying for Tongans to witness proper parliamentary methods fall to pieces.

Question: what was the governance mechanism that would’ve prevented the speaker from requesting the King to use his “personal prerogative powers” to dissolve parliament?

Answer: Conflict resolution.

On noting that, what’s the real obstacle to sustaining good governance in a democratic system?  In all honesty, it’s the noble MPs refusing to observe parliamentary procedures of conflict resolution.

Obviously Tonga’s noblemen don’t believe wholeheartedly in democracy, and why would they?  They’ve never considered democracy to serve the monarchy and nobility’s real politik interests.  What are their immediate material goals in politics?  To preserve power and privilege over the people’s representatives, and to control the government.

Tonga’s Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, and Parliament’s Speaker Lord Tu’ivakano. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Tu’ivakano’s press release on Monday 28 August outlining his reasons for pursuing a royal dissolution, signposted the nobility’s stand.  Overall, he asserted class politics in the assumed superiority of the “King” and the “Nobles” over the people in “The Government of Tonga.”

 

The Government of Tonga is for the King, Nobles and the People.

Lord Tu’ivakano

 

There was no indication the noble MPs had a public duty of care to follow parliamentary due process like other human beings they considered subordinate to themselves.  Tu’ivakano named the impeachment process “a frivolous use of the Legislative Assembly’s time.”

A question begs asking: why be a member of parliament, if the process you’ve sworn an oath of duty to uphold is “a frivolous” waste of time?

 

Motions of impeachment have been submitted to the Office of the Legislative Assembly, but I believe without a doubt that they will yield the same results that I have previously mentioned.  It will be a frivolous use of the Legislative Assembly’s time, neglecting its primary function which is to make laws.

Lord Tu’ivakano

 

Possibly, there’s a hidden reason which prompted the speaker to ditch the impeachment process.  Exasperating the noble MPs who apparently got in his ear, was that although they could submit impeachments at the speaker’s request, they wouldn’t win the votes in the House to indict the Prime Minister and ministers they wanted to reprimand.

Democracy was a new game they kept losing in opposition.  At a snap election, they could go for control of the government with the prospect of new people’s MPs who could get into coalition with them.

But this was a misjudgement, highlighting they hadn’t grasped the basic rule of democracy is partisan politics.

Two compelling reasons affect why the nobles wouldn’t win an impeachment.  First, the impeachment logic isn’t convincing; nor does it produce hard evidence.  Rational MPs won’t vote for an obscure argument lacking proven facts.

In the speaker’s press statement he “became increasingly concerned” and “extremely concerned” and “also troubled.”  The tone and tenor of the writing constitutes emotional responses, stirred by fear and doubt.  Where’s the factual evidence?  His discussion was conjecture.

Secondly, in a democracy, the nobles are the minority.  Not solely in numbers as a bloc of 9 special seats, which the public aren’t allowed to vote for.  But by their political philosophy of the conservative right, which is the minority dogma of the upper class.

Why would peoples representatives of leftist or centrist values who are highly educated want to form a coalition government based on regressive thinking?  The speaker reproduced an outdated doctrine of self-proclaimed superiority – that the government is for the King and the nobles first, and the people will always come last.

This social equation conveys that the people are nothing but subordinate underlings.  Unimportant, they only exist to bow, scrap, and serve the upper strata in a cruel class system denying them the fundamental human right of equality.

In world politics, this reasoning is not rational, democratic, egalitarian, or fair.  In fact, a bigoted mentality is wrong, unjust, and an abuse of power and privilege.

Tonga’s Speaker of Parliament, Lord Tu’ivakano. Photograph: Daniela Maoate-Cox.

Tu’ivakano’s main overreaction was centred on an anticipated bill reading he didn’t want to go through with.

 

A Government Bill had been submitted to the Office of the Legislative Assembly, which intended to remove the King in Privy Council’s power to appoint the Commissioner of Police, and placing it with Cabinet.

Lord Tu’ivakano

 

A political paradox ought to have sprung out at the speaker to bring him to his historical senses.  In 2011 when Tu’ivakano was Tonga’s Prime Minister, his leadership was criticised by the monarch, George Tupou V, King Tupou VI’s oldest brother.

Radio New Zealand documented the story.  This former Prime Minister had gone down the same policy route as Pohiva in wanting his cabinet to appoint the police commissioner.

 

An official for the King of Tonga says the removal of New Zealander Chris Kelly as the police commissioner is illegal.  He has also strongly criticised cabinet’s plans to change the Police Act so the government can make the necessary appointment decisions.  Lord Privy Seal, Vainga Tone, made King George Tupou 5th displeasure clear.

Radio New Zealand

 

On 30 May, Koro Vaka’uta for Radio New Zealand recorded a telling interview with Fusitu’a.  Comparing his account to Tu’ivakano’s press release on August 28th, the texts exhibit similar wording, detail, and judgements about Pohiva’s government.

 

Lord Fusitu’a said there have been a series of breaches of the rule of law, of the principles of democracy and the Constitution under the government of ‘Akilisi Pohiva.  “It’s definitely throughout the community and the country but it is even more acute in parliament because we have more of an inside knowledge of what this current administration is doing publicly and behind the scenes,” he said.

Radio New Zealand

 

I became increasingly concerned during the current parliamentary term with certain decisions and actions of the Executive that appears to disregard the Constitution and the rule of law, which has affected decisions and procedures of the Legislative Assembly.

Lord Tu’ivakano

Nobles Representatives. Photograph: Fusitu’a.

Curiously on September 4th, Fusitu’a’s storytelling on mainstream media lay emphasis on how “extremely beneficial to the country” it would be to have a new government of nobles and peoples MPs.

One thing became clear in his Radio Australia discussion.  Political opportunism.  Capitalising on parliament’s termination, he was promoting himself to be in the next government.

 

I think that would be extremely beneficial to the country [to have a government of noble MPs and people’s MPs].  I think both the nobles reps and the peoples reps have skills to offer.  And as I’ve said historically that has been the case: they’ve played particular roles.  Fresh elections brings the possibility of new people into the legislature, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  And I think as a nation, both politically and socially, there’s a certain amount of healing that needs to take place.

Lord Fusitu’a

 

However, it was Koro Vaka’uta’s Radio New Zealand interview with Fusitu’a at his home in Nuku’alofa, four months ago on May 30th, which first captured his political intentions.

Lord Fusitu’a. Photograph: Koro Vaka’uta.

It’s unconscionable for us to let the country suffer for another year and a half and they may not say so but I think our Pacific neighbours, both the metropolitan and the island nations, would agree that something needs to be done to get Tonga back on track.

Lord Fusitu’a

 

Fusitu’a anticipated the regional reaction to Tonga’s dissolution of parliament incorrectly.  His views couldn’t have been further from the truth.  No overseas government backed the decree of King Tupou VI in Privy Council on Lord Tu’ivakano’s advice.

Problematically, the political picture was starting to resemble the underhanded plotting of noble MPs set on dismantling the House and removing the government.

In tandem, New Zealand and Australia diplomatically back peddled.  Acknowledging Tonga’s democracy was tempered by the monarch’s constitutional privileges, didn’t make the decision to pull the plug on Pohiva’s government any less disappointing.

Their immediate concern will be that Tonga hasn’t held a snap national election, and that sudden elections of this nature disadvantage women and vulnerable groups from putting forward candidates.

The limited time-frame, coupled with the expense of registering, campaigning, and organising on short notice, are contributing drawbacks burdening people in a weaker social and economic position.

On noting that, New Zealand and Australian election observers are necessary; any irregularities at the polls must be called out and procedurally settled.

Victoria University Professor of Political Science, Jon Fraenkel, pulled no punches in his criticism of the Tongan monarch’s decision.  Complicit in the political and diplomatic disaster was the “unwise” instruction of the Privy Council.

Fraenkel’s analysis, published by the East Asia Forum on September 10th, reached a global audience.  Importantly, his critique of power in the Tongan King’s “royal rule [of] veto and assent” is a stand largely taken by academics, researchers, journalists, and critics across the world.

 

King George Tupou VI’s action was hasty and the Privy Council’s advice unwise.  The prime minister’s alleged encroachments – if this they were – were themselves potentially subject to royal veto, though this would better have been used more cautiously.  Transitions from royal rule are best handled by allowing powers of veto and assent to wither by convention, and by resisting the temptation to step in whenever the popularly elected members fail to assume responsibility.  Pohiva, who reacted to the dissolution by sacking both the deputy prime minister and the finance minister and accusing them of conspiring against him, was already a lame duck prime minister serving out his last months before retirement.  The royal dissolution may have brought forward the choice of new leader, but it has done so in a way that weakens Tonga’s fragile new democracy.

Jon Fraenkel

Siaosi Sovaleni, former Deputy Prime Minister and MP for Tongatapu 3. Photograph: International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Fraenkel articulated an astute awareness of the political minefield that a new Prime Minister from the people would have to tread carefully.  It was true to say “the royal dissolution may have brought forward the choice of new leader.”

The irony was the popular choice to lead an incoming government was Siaosi Sovaleni, MP for Tongatapu 3.  He’d been unfairly dismissed as Deputy Prime Minister by the outgoing Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

But a double dose of paradox was the next popular contender to Sovaleni was ‘Aisake Eke, MP for Tongatapu 5.  He’d also been undeservedly fired as Pohiva’s finance minister earlier in February.

As politicians, Sovaleni and Eke shared more in common than a former boss who’d behaved shoddily towards them.  The highest performing ministers for the Pohiva term, as independent MPs in a coalition government with the Democratic Party they showed exceptional leadership qualities, which other parliamentarians didn’t exhibit.

Intellect, strength of character under pressure, and public policy and administration knowhow meant they were well equipped to attain sustainable development goals, and hold fast to their national vision.  Important to note, is that they were high achieving ministers working in a fractious government led by an arbitrary and inconsistent Prime Minister.

In Tonga and the diaspora, it’s popularly hoped Sovaleni and Eke will come back in the House at the November 16th election determined to form a government of moderate politicians from the people’s representatives who are centrist or centre-left in their politics, and policy and process driven.

That’s given they can collaborate on common policy ground as allies, and not succumb to the nobility’s divide-and-rule politicking demonstrated in disassembling the parliament, which should be the country’s significant democratic institution.

However, as Fraekel noted, the consequences of dissolving parliament by royal decree is that “it has done so in a way that weakens Tonga’s fragile new democracy.”  That indicates the political purpose of parliament’s dissolution: to diminish democracy by an excessive use of “personal prerogative powers.”

Hovering overhead is some apprehension about the next government’s road forward.  If the nobility are still unwilling to participate appropriately in parliamentary procedures and don’t get their own way in the legislature, would a faction plan another dissolution?

The one comfort for voters is that democracy wins at the ballot.  With that said, the peoples representatives are elected to parliament by the popular vote, putting them at a distinct advantage in contesting parliament’s ballot for Prime Minister.

Despite emerging from a crumpled legislature, surely, the people will be wiser and win out for the country’s benefit with a second peoples led government.

‘Aisake Eke, former Minister for Finance and MP for Tongatapu 5. Photograph: United Nations Population Fund.

Conflict resolution is a means to an ends by a transparent, even-handed process.  It works if parliamentarians go through the process, step-by-step.  MPs unwilling to invest in their legislature’s procedures should not be elected as the country’s lawmakers.  They’re unsuited for politics.

Apart from the budget in 2017, Tongan media and the public completely missed seeing Tu’ivakano facilitating impeachments and bills through the correct parliamentary channels because it never happened.

With Pohiva in the Prime Minister’s seat, the former Prime Minister fronting him as the speaker, and the parliament hampered by a weak noble opposition unwilling to give the democratic politics of conflict resolution a fair go, Tonga shot backwards to the 1980s.

In the 80s, Pohiva was in his prime revolutionary era.  Democracy was almost a swearword that got him and other leftists in colossal trouble with the most conservative monarch and noblemen in the Pacific.

History repeated itself this year on August 25th.  Arguably, the monarch is showing signs of returning to an absolute monarchy, well before the 2010 political reform modernised Tonga to a constitutional monarchy.

Undeniably, Tonga is politically juvenile.  A paranoid, panicky, and punitive strike against the government by a speaker of whom it can be said, may not have worked alone in choreographing parliament’s fall, is evidence of immaturity.

And it’s definitely a partial democracy of seven small years; an unfinished model compared to Western liberal democracies with some distance to go.  As a small island state with a diaspora, we’ve seen rash decision-making based on unsubstantiated accusations undo national polity and stability, and regrettably, blemish our regional standing in the Pacific.

Tonga’s Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva. Photograph: Monica Miller.

The dispiriting consequence is witnessing people cower at the unfairness of undue force.  The Tongan psyche limits people from speaking truth to power.  Being restricted from outspokenly disagreeing with defective decisions made by the monarchy and nobility, paralyses political progress.

What’s uncovered is that Tongans live in trepidation of what the King can do to them “at his pleasure,” by exercising “personal prerogative powers.”  People may sense there’s something seriously wrong.  But they know, intuitively, that to publicise their views could risk their safety and that of their children, families, and communities.

In this day and age, no rational minded and self-respecting adult wants to be brutalised by unwarranted social control.  As expected, the Tongan survival strategy is to self-censor public opinions, or suffer in silence and bemoan privately to trusted colleagues and kinfolk.  But communal behaviour doesn’t signify a healthy democratic society, at all.

Adversely, it’s symptomatic of absolutism.  The bleak truth is the establishment has come down hard on democratic reform.  But the triggers expose an acute fear of change.  For history tells us, weak rulers use an iron fist out of fear of their own people.

And fear is the leading cause of ignorance, intolerance, and prejudice whether discrimination is targeted against another class, race, religion, or gender.

Tonga’s political development has to keep up with the rest of humanity.  For the sake of our children, their children, and their children’s children.  Who, like younger generation people, are equipped to navigate forward in a complex and diverse world.

The ultimate truth?  The present world and in the future is one where the few refusing to accept and adapt to social change, will quickly find themselves out of depth and out of place.

King Tupou VI at parliament’s opening 2017. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Authors

Dr Teena Brown is an anthropologist and senior lecturer in the Faculty of Maori and Indigenous Development at Auckland University of Technology.

Melino Maka chairs the Tongan Advisory Council in Auckland, New Zealand and publishes the news and current affairs website, tonganz.net.

, , ,

Comments are closed.