Tonga will go to the elections in November with the opposition strategically weakened by a split in the PTOA Party.
The split will mean that the two PTOA factions will be fighting for the same vote while Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa PAK party will only field one candidate in each electorate.
The PTOA – the Democrats who were led to two election victories by the late ‘Akilisi Pohiva – have split into two groups.
One PTOA group is led by ‘Akilisi’s son MP Siaosi Pohiva, who won a by-election for his father’s seat in 2019 by just 16 votes. He and MP Saia Piukala have defected and broken away from the PTOA Core team led by former Deputy Prime Minister and PTOA Leader MP Semisi Sika.
Sika has the support of six other PTOA MPs. Each group claims that they represent ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s party and manifesto.
The move has been criticised heavily by PTOA supporters who see it as giving the Prime Minister and his party a dangerous advantage.
Cracks in the PTOA appeared publicly shortly after Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s death. At the time Kaniva News quoted party member Dr Tu’i Uata, saying the spirit of party unity had disappeared when ‘Akilisi died.
The only way that seems possible for the Democrats not to be badly affected by a split vote is for the two factions to unite or for them to promise not to stand candidates against each other in the various electorates, something the Greens and Labour have done in New Zealand.
Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa should be on shaky ground after months refusing to deal with convicted criminal and Cabinet Member ‘Akosita Lavulavu.
He has also been roundly condemned for having too close a relationship with ‘Akosita’s husband, ‘Etuate, who was also jailed for fraud, but who seems to have maintained an unexplained influence on the Prime Minister.
He has been the subject of continuing criticism over apparent cronyism in the awarding of road building contracts.
The Prime Minister should be anything but confident.
However, he survived a vote of no confidence in January and knows that voters in areas with poor infrastructure are keen to have new roads.
With the election only weeks away, Tu’i’onetoa and his Cabinet are launching new projects in the outer islands, such as new weaving buildings and constructing roads.
He has been accused of campaigning unfairly by using the government’s projects to promote his election campaign.
Elections must be held by November 30 to elect 17 of the 26 seats to the Legislative Assembly.