COMMENTARY The lack of information and statement to update the public on what the newly elected 26 MPs are doing in the lead up to Tonga’s premiership election is unacceptable.
This is the country’s most important election and news of what is happening is being kept secret from the public. The situation does not help promote the mechanisms of transparency, good governance and accountability laid out in Tongan law.
An interim Cabinet minister told Kaniva News this morning that all MPs, including the Nobles were meeting to decide on the best option for them to elect the best Prime Minister and his new Cabinet.
Some media have produced well informed speculation about what might happen, but there is too much danger of unfounded rumours spreading online.
After the election on November 18 the only information that came out from a few of the newly elected MPs were votes of thanks for being elected to Parliament and they were only posted to Facebook.
The political system for electing the Prime Minister is undemocratic because of the involvement of the nobility MPs who were only voted into parliament by their 33 members. In New Zealand, although its voters would not elect their prime minister like the US presidential election, its party system election allows voters to vote for the prime minister’s political party making their election democratic.
Concerns about new PM
At the moment there is strong concern about who will be the new Prime Minister. There is a possibility Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa will be elected PM again because of what appear to be binding documents between him and his former Cabinet ministers and the nobles under his PAK Party agreements. But there are also rumours that the new MPs want a new PM, not Hon. Tu’i’onetoa.
The local news media has been heavily criticised for its failure to update the public. They were also criticised for their failure to announce the provisional results of the elections on November 18 from the polling booths as soon as they became available. The results were finally announced about 11.30pm, eight hours after the polling booths closed.
By that time the public was already well aware of the results in the afternoon because they had been announced at the polling booths. While there were complaints on social media for the time it took for the results to be officially announced, FM 87.5 announcer kept on saying they already had the provisional results, but they had to wait for the election supervisor.
Former Manager of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, ‘Ahongalu Fusimālohi, reportedly said he felt the local media, especially FM87.5 and the TBC were told by the government to only release the official results. Fusimālohi said this was unacceptable.
Fusimālohi criticised the media’s actions and said it was the norm in the past that TBC had to release the unofficial results once the polling booths announced their results. It did not have to wait for the election supervisor to announce the official results.
He said the problem was that when the media did not announce the preliminary results as soon as they become available the public would be skeptical about the outcome.
Veteran journalist and publisher Kalafi Moala reportedly said the situation about the newly elected MPs came about because the general election results were being recounted on Friday after complaints were lodged with the election supervisor. This meant nothing would be released until the recount was finished.
Moala said he had received unconfirmed reports that the MPs representing the nobility had decided they would not accept any offer of Cabinet posts from the people’s MPs. He said the Nobles wanted to leave the running of the government to the people’s MPs alone. Moala said this meant a new Cabinet would be people’s elected MPs only and there were rumours the new cabinet would not appoint any new minister from outside the MPs.