Tonga Democratic Party torn by rival claims over election candidate list

Kiliki heni: ko e onoongo ko 'eni 'i he lea faka-Tonga.

Tonga’s Democratic Party is being torn by rival claims over different lists of candidates.

Party leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva,  party secretary Sione Havea Taione and the party’s deputy chairman ‘Isileli Pulu have all given Kaniva News different sides of the story.

Leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva has announced a select committee’s list of candidates in a meeting on Thursday, June 12, claiming it was the party’s official list for the November 2014 election.

But party secretary Sione Havea Taione told Kaniva News in a statement on Friday, June 13, that the party had yet to officially select its candidate list.

Pohiva’s list is claimed to be the work of an independent committee consisting of three members of the Human Rights and Democracy Movement (HRDM).

The list promotes five new faces over sitting MPs, including Rev Simote Vea to replace Dr Sitiveni Halapua for Tongatapu 3; Semisi Fakahau to replace Sione Havea Taione for Tongatapu 8 and Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa to replace Semisi Tapueluelu for Tongatapu 10.

Other new members are Sipola Havili for Tongatapu 7 and Salesi Finau (Finauhu’ia) for Tongatapu 6.

Democratic Party deputy chairman ‘Isileli Pulu told Kaniva News the select committee’s list did not reflect the party’s consensus and was therefore invalid.

However, Pohiva said the list he announced on Thursday was the official list for the party.

When asked whether he was aware his deputy and secretary had disowned the select committee’s list and said the party would meet soon to select the party’s candidates list, Pohiva said he stood by the existing list.

“I do not know if they have a list, but the one I announced on Thursday was the official one and I can confirm that to you,” Pohiva said.

“If they sent you any information I have no knowledge about it.”

Pohiva said the party approved asking the Human Rights and Democracy Movement to select the party’s candidates on May 9.

“I think that was the best option the party has made,” Pohiva said.

He said the Movement had existed for more than 20 years and was recognised internationally. The Democratic Party was one of its political divisions.

Pohiva said the party had also approved his and Pulu’s attendance at the HRDM select committee to help them in any question regarding the sitting MPs. 

The chairperson of the HRDM, Dr Ungatea Kata, said they received a request from the Democratic Party in early April asking them to select the party’s candidate list.

The list was completed on June 11. Pohiva announced the contents of the list on the same day.

Deputy Party chairman Pulu strongly criticised the list and said it had to be revoked because the selection of candidates was influenced by Pohiva.

Pohiva adjourned the meeting on Wednesday last week and announced it would reconvene the following day.

Kaniva understands the Thursday meeting was not attended by Parliamentarians Pulu (Tongatapu 4), Dr Sitiveni Halapua (Tongatapu 3), Sione Havea Taione (Tongatapu 8) Falisi Tupou (Tongatapu 9) and  Semisi Tapueluelu (Tongatapu 10).

They sent their apologies to Pohiva.

Pulu said they were working according to the party’s manifesto. He said claims that Halapua, Taione and Tapueluelu had breached the party’s Memorandum of Understanding were incorrect.

“We members met and sorted out all the problems,” Pulu said.

“In regard to the selection of the candidate list, we established five options. One was to let the MPs discuss who we think should be dropped; two, that we let Pohiva select it by himself; three, that we do it by conducting a survey; four, to allow the people to choose our candidates and number five was to let the Human Rights and Democracy members select it.”

Pulu said options one to four had been cancelled and the party members agreed on option 5. However when he learnt the select committee's candidate list was published by Pohiva's newspaper Kele'a on June 9 before it was given to the party he submitted a motion in a party meeting on June 11 to not proceed with option five. Pulu claimed that Pohiva had become angry and said he would stand by the HDRM selection.

“That was why we met last Wednesday to see the candidate’s list from the HRDM, and I went there to tell Pohiva and the meeting I was not satisfied with the list because he had influenced the selection,” he said.

Pohiva said the meeting on Thursday approved the select committee’s list.

Tongatapu 8 MP Sione Taione said the party was an official entity registered in September 2010 with 17 members registered according to the number of constituencies in Tonga. Three members were removed from the registration list, including Sangstar Saulala and  Siosifa Tu’utafaiva, because they defected to the government and the late Kaveinga Fa’anunud. According to Taione, the official members are:

1.

Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva, (TT1) ( Chair )

8.    Sunia Fili         (‘Eua 11)

2.

Semisi Sika    (TT2)

9.  Mo’ale Finau  (HP12)

3.

Dr Sitiveni Halapua (TT3)

10. ‘Uliti Uata        (HP13 )

4.

‘Isileli Pulu (TT4) (Deputy Chair)

11. Siale Fihaki      (TT)

5.

Sione Havea Taione (TT8)

12.  Piveni Piukala  (Vv)

6.

Falisi Tupou (TT9)

13.  Viliami Kaufusi Helu (Vv)

7.

Semisi Tapueluelu (TT10)

14.  Tevita Kaafi Tukufuka  (Vv)

Taione said the official party members would meet soon to select the official candidates.

He said they met last Thursday and agreed to issue a press release saying that the list of candidates announced by Pohiva’s newspaper Kele’a and Taimi o Tonga did not have anything to do with the party. The press release was signed by Pohiva and Taione.

The press release said a clause in the party’s memorandum of understanding said (in Tongan):

 “We are the candidates selected by the Friendly Island Democratic Party, we must adhere to agreements established and approved by the party members, while we do our campaign and while we become members of parliament.”

The press release said the party respected the right of  Kele’a, Taimi ‘o Tonga and the New Zealand Tongan Development Society to publish lists of suggested candidates, but that the decision would be made by the party.

Last Friday Pohiva released a statement saying he wanted to correct the press release he signed and which was released by Taione on Thursday.

Pulu said the party’s release differed from that released by the select committee and Pohiva.

The party’s press release confirmed that the party would meet to select its candidate list, while Pohiva released a candidate list selected by the select committee.

The main points

  • Tonga’s Democratic Party is being torn by rival claims over different lists of candidates.
  • Leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva has announced a select committee’s list of candidates in a meeting on Thursday 12 claiming it was the party’s official list for the November 2014.
  • But party secretary Sione Taione told Kaniva News in a statement on Friday 13 the party had yet to officially select its candidate list.
  • Pohova’s list promotes five new faces over sitting MPs.

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