Paranoia and narcissism are evident in modern political history. From 1928 until his death in 1953, Joseph Stalin was the Georgian General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He spent his last days obsessed that someone in the Communist Party, the only political party in the entire Eastern Bloc, was plotting against him. (Stal, 2014). Distrustful, suspicious, and paranoid, Stalin lost his grip on reality. His days were numbered due to an incompetent, corrupt, and brutal regime that the masses loathed, not because imaginary plotters in the Kremlin had the upper-hand.
Paranoia and self-absorption have struck the zoo. Tonga’s Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva went on a witch hunt to purge the state of conspirators who existed in his political imagination. The country’s public broadcaster, Radio and Television Tonga, caught the rough of the stick. Veteran television presenter, Viola Ulakai, was singled out. Her punishment was a suspension and follow-up investigation for asking too many questions, particularly about Pohiva’s botched policy to switch the secondary school system from moderated grades to raw marks. (Kaniva Pacific, 2016; Radio New Zealand, 2016).
No country on planet earth with a modern education system used raw marks these days. Not that it mattered. The real gripe was that Ulakai was behaving like an investigate journalist, questioning the effectiveness of the Prime Minister’s special policy, and even assuming she could get him to front-up to a press conference to answer media questions. The Tongan state did not operate by a democratic arrangement. Did Ulakai honestly believe that Pohiva saw himself as accountable to the voting, tax-paying public?
Some variation played out on the paranoia and egotism front. Pohiva’s failed attempt at axing the former Prime Minister of 2006 to 2010, Dr Feleti Sevele, from the chairmanship for Tonga’s Pacific Games Committee made a change from targeting journalists. Pohiva wanted the Solicitor General, Sione Sisifa in Sevele’s seat. Vidhya Lakhan, President of the Pacific Games Council was concerned that Pohiva’s actions breached due process, his country’s laws to be exact. If he continued down the path of lawlessness and self-destruction, the Pacific Games Council might look at exiting the agreement for Tonga to host the 2019 event. Tonga would lose the games, the first upheaval of its kind in the Pacific Games history since it began fifty-three years ago in 1963. (Matangi Tonga, 2016).
What had worsened the zoo’s paranoia? In brief, a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister was fast approaching parliament in the mid-year. Who in the zoo might defect to the opposition so the numbers were convincingly stacked to vote him out by a clear majority? Massey University’s Director of Pasifika, Malakai Koloamatangi, raised this sticking point in a Radio New Zealand interview: “Even in his own Cabinet, it seems like [Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva] might have some defections – though we are not quite sure yet.” (Radio New Zealand, 2016).
Koloamatangi was being cautious, despite the possibility that he may have heard some of the accounts circulating around Nuku’alofa on who in the zoo was making a break. Nothing in Tonga was top-secret when it came to political dissent and turn-coat cabinet ministers jumping ship to save themselves, of which he noted by saying, “like any other politicians around the world, when you can see they are on a sinking ship, self-preservation comes first to them.” (Radio New Zealand, 2016).
Most voters had an opinion on who looked as if they may jump ship – Finance Minister, ‘Aisake Eke. Who may well want to jump but might not be welcomed onboard by the nobility for turning his back on them at the 2014 Prime Minister’s election – Deputy Prime Minister, Siaosi Sovaleni. Whose mind was made up to go down with the crew – Minister for Lands and His Majesty’s Armed Forces, Lord Ma’afu. Whose career had sunk before the vote kicked off in parliament due to overegging the pudding of political self-interest – Internal Affairs Minister, Fe’ao Vakata.
Does the present parliamentary system produce cabinet defectors as an expected feature of a vote of no hope? By this, we mean that a three-quarter majority out of twenty-six parliamentarians is needed to succeed. Therefore, defectors are not only necessary but urged. The difficulty for the opposition is how to secure the support of defectors for the purpose of voting Pohiva out of office, without having to promise ministerial posts once a new government assumes power.
But was that at all possible in a political landscape where individual men were accustomed to trading votes for minister’s jobs, salaries, privileges, and perks? The vulnerable portfolio was finance, which no doubt ‘Aisake Eke would contest after being the minister for two consecutive governments. What might a third season of Eke economics resemble?
The short answer: a diminishing business sector, zero growth in trade exports, and increased dependence on aid, grants, and remittances, which come at a high cost by loss of political sovereignty in terms of indebtedness to international donors. In the real world of global capitalism, was Tonga to have any chance at financial recovery under prolonged Eke economics?
Encouraging news for the free press is that Kalafi Moala has made a comeback as Tonga’s hard-hitter. Regrettably for 2015 he was locked up in the zoo, a position which made it difficult for him to see the wood from the trees as ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s media advisor. On his release into the world of independent journalism, Moala wasted no time calling up Pohiva for trampling media freedom in Ulakai’s case.
How could he not speak truth to power? He was the reporter famed in international media circles when in 1996 the Tongan parliament unlawfully sent him, and his newspaper editor, to jail for thirty-days for publishing a story on a cabinet minister’s impeachment. Ironically, ‘Akilisi Pohiva was the parliamentarian in opposition who leaked Moala the scoop. Pohiva was sent down with the two journalists, but released early due to illness.
Twenty years on, history has exposed a twisted tale. Pohiva is the Tongan Prime Minister manoeuvring his power and authority to shut down the free press, and Moala is society’s conscience naming it straight-up for what it is – a violation of media freedom. (Moala, 2015).
Dr Teena Brown
Dr Teena Brown is an anthropologist and Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Maori and Indigenous Development at Auckland University of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand.
Melino Maka is the Chair of the Tongan Advisory Council in Auckland, New Zealand, and the publisher of tonganz.net.
Kaniva Pacific. (2016). Viola Ulakai suspended from Radio and TV Tonga the day after PM questions her integrity. New Zealand Kaniva Pacific, Auckland, April 21.
Matangi Tonga. (2016). Tonga may lose Pacific Games. Matangi Tonga Online, Nuku’alofa, May 6.
Moala, K. (2016). Tonga’s ‘transparency:’ prime minister violates media freedom over questions. Asia Pacific Watch: AUT’s Pacific Media Centre, Auckland, April 22.
Radio New Zealand. (2016). Tonga TV programme manager upsets government. Radio New Zealand: Pacific, Wellington, April 22.
Stal, M. (2013). Psychopathology of Joseph Stalin. Psychology, 4 (9): 1-4.
Radio New Zealand. (2016). Tonga government ‘faces no-confidence threat.’ Radio New Zealand: International, Wellington, April 6.