Online media helped New Zealand Tongans play a part in the 2014 Tongan elections

    Kaniva News and other Tongan online media helped make New Zealand Tongans important players in the 2014 elections,  even though they could not vote.

    An article in the latest edition of Pacific Journalism Review, which is published by the Pacific Media Centre at AUT, says that digital media allowed Tongans in Auckland to try to influence the election.

    It says Tongan politicians recognised the power and influence of the New Zealand community. Tongan politicians used the Tongan diasporic media to carry their messages to Tongans living outside the kingdom during the election.

    Stories and documents were leaked and statements released to the Auckland-based Tongan media were targeted as much as the domestic Tongan media.

    The New Zealand Tongan Development Society proposed its own Democratic Party candidates for the election, saying it would support those MPs who were loyal to the Party.

    Based on interviews with leading Auckland-based Tongan journalists, including Kaniva News editor Kalino Latu, Sandra Kailahi and John Pulu, the article says that Tongans living in Auckland had a very strong interest in and affect on politics in the kingdom.

    The article quotes Pulu as saying social media had become a powerful tool among the dispersed Tongan community. It allowed families to maintain their links to people in Tonga and influence families. He said Tongan politicians were aware of its influence and most politicians were on Facebook.

    Kailahi said politicians knew that with the amount of money sent to Tonga from New Zealand, families in New Zealand would probably have an influence on their kainga in Tonga.

    Under the Tongan electoral system non-resident Tongans cannot vote. However, if they have maintained a presence on the Tongan electoral role and have lived in the kingdom for three months prior to an election, they may stand for Parliament.

    Many Auckland Tongans would like to vote in the Tongan elections and have suggested that they be able to do this either online or by voting at the official Tongan residence in Auckland, ‘Atalanga.

    Latu said Tongans in New Zealand had been actively interested in Tonga’s politics since 1990s especially in supporting ‘Akilisi Pohiva and the democrats.  That support had grown significantly during the last election.  This had led to a growing influence from Tongans in Auckland and attempts to influence their family in Tonga in the way they voted in 2014.

    According to the article, Tongans in Auckland felt they had a right to have a say in what was happening in the kingdom.  Kaniva News editor Kalino Latu said this was because Tongans in Auckland thought differently about politics to their families in Tonga.

    “Tonga’s democracy is still in its early stages while New Zealand had it many decades ago,” Latu said.

    “Tongans in Auckland look at politics as one of the avenues that brings them fortune and greater opportunities in New Zealand. In Tonga people look at politics as something that could bring good governance, transparency and accountability to the nation.”

    Digital and social media also played an important part in recent elections in the Cook Islands and Fiji. Politicians in those countries also paid attention to overseas populations in the run-up to voting.

    In 2014 Fijian coup leader Commodore Bainimarama came to Auckland to speak to Fijians living in Auckland, who are able to vote.

    The article, ‘A foreign flower no more: Tongan diasporic media and the 2014 Tongan election,’  was written by Dr Philip Cass, a senior lecturer at Unitec who is a regular contributor to Kaniva News.

    The main points

    • Kaniva News and other Tongan online media helped make New Zealand Tongans important players in the 2014 elections, even though they could not vote.
    • An article in the latest edition of Pacific Journalism Review, which is published by the Pacific Media Centre at AUT, says that digital media allowed Tongans in Auckland to try to influence the election.
    • It says Tongan politicians recognised the power and influence of the New Zealand community.
    • Tongan politicians used the Tongan diasporic media to carry their messages to Tongans living outside the kingdom during the election.

    For more information 

    Pacific Journalism Review

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