Democratic (PTOA) spokesperson MP Semisi Fakahau says a third group of MPs has joined the race to choose Tonga’s new Prime Minister.
The group appears to include all the PTOA Party’s four elected MPs, namely Dr Saia Piukala, Sangstar Saulala, Veivosa Taka and Fakahau.
In an interview with Radio FM 87.5, Fakahau confirmed the group’s existence, but did not say who its members were, just saying in Tongan “our group”.
He said the group was originally formed to support former Speaker Lord Fakafanua to become a candidate for the premiership. Lord Fakafanua later pulled out after all the Nobility MPs agreed to stay out of the premiership candidacy or engage in any horse trading in return for seats in the new Cabinet.
Fakahau said his group decided to pursue the premiership after Lord Fakafanua’s withdrawal.
The revelation was a relief in the PTOA after they lost both their rival leaders and majority votes in some strongholds with defeats to seven independent candidates among People’s Representatives in the November general elections.
The PTOA Party was split in the lead up to the elections with the creation of two rival groups — the PTOA People’s Board led by Siaosi Pōhiva and PTOA Core Team led by Sēmisi Sika.
PTOA top senior members, including Mateni Tapueluelu,Mo’ale Finau, Losaline Ma’asi, PTOA People’s Board leader Pōhiva and Core Team leader Sika were all defeated.
As Kaniva News reported early this week, two other candidates for the premiership are Siaosi Sovaleni and interim Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, with the third group now has yet to name its candidate. Unconfirmed reports on Facebook by PTOA supporters named Fakahau as the party’s candidate and Dr Saia Piukala as Deputy. Some support Piukala as Prime Minster and Fakahau as Deputy.
We said in our report on Wednesday that four MPs supported Tu’i’onetoa, while 11 MPs supported Sovaleni. Given Fakahau’s revelation this week, it appears the level of support for Tu’i’onetoa could still stand because of what appears to be some kind of mutual agreements between him and his former Cabinet Ministers. However, support for Sovaleni has diminished, apparently after the PTOA MPs said they would no longer support him.
The introduction of a third group to contest the election for Prime Minister could spur some Independents to support the PTOA MPs. This could be because of Fakahau’s seniority and because he is regarded as a silent, but diligent worker, highly revered locally for his years of service as a fisheries advisor to the Commonwealth Secretariat. Dr Piukala is regarded as a well-spoken and eloquent speaker.
The fact that horse trading with the PTOA is more likely to be a done deal given their smaller number could be a perfect determiner for some independents.
The Noble’s representatives in Parliament are still the kingmakers because they are in the majority with nine seats. The nobility made it clear they wanted the people’s 17 MPs to meet and stand together and make the wisest decision when they vote.
Lord Tu’ivakano, the spokesperson for the Nobility MPs told Radio FM 87.5 they would support whichever group made the best choice.
The numbers now give the PTOA five or six votes, Sovaleni six or seven and Tu’i’onetoa five. These numbers are not yet fixed and subject to changes before the election in about two weeks’ time.
The new Prime Minister
As we reported earlier this week there was a lot of doubt about Tu’i’onetoa’s leadership given his poor record in the past two years, during which he has been accused of a number of shortcomings.
Sovaleni has been widely supported, given he had the highest total vote of all the other MPs. However, critics say he is too young to lead the country.
This means the PTOA MPs and whichever independents supporting them have more opportunities to choose a candidate who might meet what the nobility MPs are looking for – the best.
The new Prime Minister must be able to unite all the people’s MPs and pick the best to form the government, regardless of which group they supported before the elections.