‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s influence missing as rival democrat factions dig their own political graves and hand victory to PM

COMMENTARY The PTOA dug its own grave for this election, with squabbling and in-fighting handing victory to Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’ionetoa.

PM ‘Akilisi Pohiva. Photo/Kalino Lātū

As Kaniva news predicted earlier this week, it was possible for Hon. Tu’ionetoa to still win despite the widespread concern over what many voters saw as corruption and mis-spending of government funds.

According to one academic commentator, the absence of democrats leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva played a big part in the election.

In the run-up to the election, Associate Professor Malaki Koloamatangi of Massey University told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat this was the first election since Pohiva’s death in 2019.

“His passing has left a gap in the political landscape in Tonga and his influence also will be missing,” Associate Professor Koloamatangi said.

The late Prime Minister’s absence was sorely felt among the rival PTOA factions.

As Kaniva news reported last night the PTOA not only lost both their rival leaders, but their majority votes in some of their strongholds as well, because the votes were divided between its rival candidates, allowing independents to beat them both.

The PTOA Party fielded rival groups known as the PTOA People’s Board, led by Siaosi Pōhiva, and the PTOA Core Team led by Sēmisi Sika.

Prime MInister Dr Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa. Photo/Kalino Lātū (Kaniva News)

Their rivalry cost them seven seats in parliament to the independents.

PTOA top senior members, including Mateni Tapueluelu, Leader Siaosi Pōhiva and Leader Sēmisi Sika were all defeated.

Siaosi Pōhiva was defeated by Tongatapu 1’s new MP Tēvita Puloka.

Leader Sēmisi Sika lost his Tongatapu 2 seat to Dr Pingi Fasi.

PTOA senior MP Māteni Tapueluelu lost his seat to incumbent Minister of the Economy Tafafu Moeaki. Tapueluelu and his  rival PTOA candidate ‘Ilaiasi Lelei ‘Ufi received a combined result of 1457 votes from the PTOA voters, but because they shared that number it allowed Moeaki to defeat  them.

In Tongatapu 5 the PTOA voters gave a total of 1104 votes to the PTOA candidates with 614 votes going to Losaline Ma’asi and her PTOA rival ‘Akanete Ta’ai receiving 490 votes. Dr ‘Aisake Eke won by 958 votes.

In Tongatapu 7 the PTOA voters gave their candidates Sangstar Saulala and Paula Piveni Piukala a total of 1420 votes. Sangstar won by 810 votes.

In Tongatapu 10 the PTOA rival candidates revived a total votes of 1554 while Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa received only 1303 votes. However, Tu’i’onetoa won after the two PTOA rivals split their votes with Kapeli Lanumata receiving 1086 votes and Vika Kaufusi 468 votes.

Corruption, drugs

The democrats should have won if they had been united and settled their differences.

Dissatisfaction at the government’s flagrant mishandling of the road projects, their tour of the islands to supposedly pray Covid-19 away while receiving gifts and feasting and the Prime Minister’s prolonged refusal to act against convicted Cabinet Minister ‘Akosita Lavulavu all grated with the voters.

According to a report launched by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International just days before the election, a survey of Pacific countries- including Tonga – showed corruption was a significant problem.

“This new data reveals the high levels of corruption directly experienced by people in the Pacific, which points to a pressing need for reform,” Transparency’s head, Delia Ferreira Rubio, said.

“Governments need to listen to their people and address their corruption problems to ensure they can vote freely and access quality public services easily, regardless of who they know and what they can pay.”

Corruption should have been a major issue that helped the democrats to win, as the party of reform. Clearly, however, their own ineptitude in fielding rival candidates meant they could not capitalise on this topic.

The other major concern for voters was the kingdom’s burgeoning drug problem. Again, this should have been an issue the PTOA could have used to woo voters, but it was not to be,

The sobering reality is that the government did not so much win this election as the PTOA lost it.

All PTOA supporters can hope for at this stage is that the leaders of the two party factions learn this bitter lesson well: If they are ever to regain power they must reconcile with each other and rediscover the late ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s vision for a truly democratic Tonga.

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