COMMENTARY As Parliament prepares to elect a Prime Minister, three groups look set to dominate the race for the premiership.
As the horse trading and deal making begins, there are no certainties, but some intriguing possibilities about how it might play out.
Former Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa was returned to parliament with seven MPs altogether, including him and Viliami Hingano, the Ha’apai governor who is now an MP. They have enough number to unite with the nine noble MPs as they did before and form the government. The new government only needs 14 MPs. This leaves the remaining nine new MPs to seek five other MPs so they can themselves form the government.
We are yet to confirm whether or not any legal promises were signed by Tu’i’onetoa’s PAK party when they formed in 2019 obliging his Ministers and the nobility to stand together with Tu’i’onetoa if they were re-elected.
The Tu’i’onetoa faction could also work together with the new independent MPs and form the government themselves. There are independent MPs likely to align themselves with the Tu’i’onetoa group like Dr ‘Aisake Eke.
The Prime Minister and his Ministers did not promote their PAK Party during the campaigns. Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said in one of his official livestream programmes days before the elections that they did not promote it because they wanted the people to elect whoever they wanted. His announcement implied that his PAK party would only name its members after the elections, meaning they would promote it among the elected MPs before forming he government.
Nine Independent MPs
On the other hand, there is a strong group of nine independent new MPs which consists of what has been regarded as one of the most well educated and hard working members of Tonga’s working elite.
This includes three MPs who hold Doctor of Philosophy qualifications and a well-known businessman Tēvita Puloka. Some held top offices in government for years.
These nine MPs also include PTOA MPs Saia Piukala, Veivosa Taka and Sēmisi Fakahau. However, these PTOA MPs political stance is not seen as hardcore, meaning they can work with anyone, even the Noble MPs. This group could form a government by making a deal with only five Noble MPs or even the Tu’ionetoa MPs if they are not still loyal to him.
Tu’i’onetoa group could elect new PM
Tu’i’onetoa’s group could also dump the nobility and stick with the other nine independent MPs. So at the end of the day it appears there is no possible kingmaker at this point because the two groups of people’s MPs have the numbers and could either unite with the Tu’i’onetoa’s or the nobility.
One group belongs to Tu’i’onetoa, one group belongs to the nine independents and the other is the nobility. Could this be the first time the nobility split and support two groups in their race for the Prime Ministership? Or could the Tu’i’onetoa group unite with the independents and form the government without the nobility? There is even the possibility that the members of PAK could do their own deal with the nobles or the nine independent MPs and elect somebody else besides Tu’i’onetoa as Prime Minister.
Whatever the outcome, we can expect many splits, fractures and unexpected alliances from these groups before a Prime Minister is chosen and Parliament resumes.