Political turmoil in the countdown to Prime Minister’s dismissal

    Former Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva has been embroiled in political turmoil since the beginning of the year.


    In February, he was the target of a fake letter purporting to have been written to the Chinese embassy.

    Both the Chinese embassy and the  PM’s office called the letter a fabrication.

    The Prime Minister’s office said the letter was clearly intended to denigrate the Prime Minister while he was facing a vote of no confidence motion that has been tabled in parliament.

    The document was posted to Facebook and widely shared online.

    The same month Dr Micheal Horowitz, Dean of Tonga’s ‘Atenisi Institute, told a seminar on the future of democracy in Tonga the Democrats might retain power despite the controversies that had dogged the government of ‘Akilisi Pōhiva.

    He said Finance Minister Dr ‘Aisake Eke or Deputy Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni could replace Pōhiva as Prime Minister.

    If the Democrats fell, a new leader could emerge from the nobles, although people could still support the new democratic style of politics.


    In March there was turmoil in the government when the Prime Minister sacked Tongan Finance Minister Dr Aisake Eke, apparently for abstaining during the long delayed vote of no confidence.

    The Prime Minister demanded Dr Eke’s resignation in a letter delivered to him during a Sunday service at the Free Wesleyan Church.

    The same month the Prime Minister declared war on the Tongan Broadcasting Corporation, describing it as “an enemy of the government.”

    Once regarded as a champion of media freedom, he told Radio New Zealand the state broadcaster was an obstacle and a constraint on the work of the government.

    His feud with the Tongan media has continued to run, culminating in a declaration by his son that any media which criticised his father’s stance on the Tongan media were aligned with his enemies.


    In April Pohiva turned 76 and celebrated 18 months as Prime Minister and the first commoner to lead the Tongan government. In an exclusive interview with Kaniva News he said he knew his government and how he led it was not perfect.

    He said he was “elated” at what he had done for Tonga in politics.

    However, even in his birthday month, Pohiva was defending his government’s actions to a group of church elders who were outraged  by rumours that an application  for a casino had been approved.

    Pohiva denied this was the case and debate arose over whether a letter which appeared to show approval had been given was actually a fake.


    This was the month when Pohiva made his most controversial decision. His government inherited an agreement from the previous administration to host the South Pacific Games in 2019. Funding was in place for the Games and overseas aid and donations were lined up to refurbish sporting facilities, buy equipment and make sure the Games could be held. Then the Prime Minister found a document dating to 2013 which said the government could not afford to host the games.

    Despite the document being four years old, despite the fact that funding was in place and that economic forecasts until 2020 had been based on income generated from construction, tourism and taxation related to the Games, he declared the kingdom would not hold the Games because it could not afford to.

    He was immediately attached by other politicians, including Finance Minister Tevita Lavemaau. Lord Vaea, who was was instrumental in bringing the Games to Tonga when he was the Minister of Internal Affairs and Sports, described the decision as “bizarre.”

    Despite the barrage of criticism Pohiva stuck to his guns and despite months of legal threats, recriminations and arguments, he remained adamant that there would be no Games.


    Pohiva remained determined not to hold the Games even after a meeting with Games officials. The Minister of Justice said the Pacific Games Council were “kakai kovi” (bad people) who thought they could easily bluff the government into changing its decision on the 2019 Games by threatening legal action.

    Hon. Vuna Fa’otusia referred to the president of Pacific Games Council President, Vidhya Lakhan as a “ki’i motu’a ‘Initia” (little old Indian man) who came to Tonga to scare the government.

    The Prime Minister began the new Parliamentary year with an agenda that was set firmly against the kingdom’s traditional power structure.

    Some nobles were quick to attack his ideas.

    Speaking to Kaniva News at ‘Atalanga in Auckland, the Prime Minister said he wanted to focus on completing his political reforms.

    Many powers, such as the authority to veto decisions, declare marshal law and close parliament still lay with the king.


    The government continued in a reformist mood with is budget, in which it outlined plans to make better paid Tongans pay more taxes to make life easier for poorer Tongans.

    The government’s plans were aimed at raising the buying power of lower income earners and generating more revenue from taxes.

    The budget statement said growth and sustainable development were critical to the government’s plans to alleviate poverty and hardship.

    In an editorial, Kaniva News said the decision not to host the 2019 Pacific Games would continue to hover over the kingdom through the second half of the year.

    We said the way the decision was handled pointed to some major lessons that needed to be learned if the government was to be returned to office at the next election.

    The long term effects of the decision on Tonga’s reputation needed to be considered.

    The move to abandon the Games looked like a snap decision made without consideration of reputational or long term interests.

    We wrote: “At the next election (then due in 2018) at election the people will judge Hon. Pohiva and his government not just on what they have done, but – because the public is fickle and often thoughtless – on what they think they have seen him do.”

    “If the Prime Minister does not learn to think a little more about how his actions might be seen, does not grow a little thicker skin and does not think more about the long term implications of his actions, then there is a danger that he and his government might lose the next election.

    “To hand power back to the entrenched power holders of former times would be unthinkable for Tonga.

    “It is up to the Prime Minister and his cabinet to draw some lessons from their first years in power to make sure they are re-elected and continue the democratic transformation of Tonga.”


    On August 24 King Tupou IV closed Parliament and dismissed the Prime Minister. As Kaniva News reported earlier today, Pohiva will stand for re-election.

    For more information

    ‘Akilisi Pohiva to run for Parliament again



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