ANALYSIS The most popular and widely discussed topic among Tongans online is who should be Tonga’s next new Prime Minister.
The debate heated up after it was confirmed only two candidates are now contesting the premiership after interim Prime Minister Pohivia Tu’i’onetoa pulled out when there were doubts over whether he could find enough support to nominate and support him as a candidate.
The only two candidates now are the interim Minister of Education Siaosi Sovaleni and returned Minister of Finance and MP Dr ‘Aisake Eke.
It is understood Dr Tu’i’onetoa was supporting Dr Eke with four other MPs while 10 MPs gave their support to Sovaleni.
In the latest twist we can see what appears to be patterns of binding cultural, administrative and political connections between Tu’i’onetoa and Dr Eke.
Dr Tu’i’onetoa promoted the culture of faka-Toloa while being the Prime Minister, the culture of seniority at high schools in which the young students were taught to respect the older ones wherever they were even when they were not at school. Dr Eke and Dr Tu’i’onetoa went to Toloa, also known as Tupou College, where Dr Tui’i’onetoa was older than Dr Eke.
In the lead up to the November election Dr Tu’i’onetoa told Radio FM 87.5 he and former Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva had a fall out after he sued late ‘Akilisi while he was the Opposition Leader. He said later on ‘Akilisi asked him to run as a candidate from Tongatapu 10 for ‘Akilisi’s PTOA Party. Tu’i’onetoa said he accepted ‘Akilisi’s request because that’s how the culture of faka-Toloa came into play. Whenever the seniors told them what to do they did it. ‘Akilisi was at Tupou College and he was older than Tu’i’onetoa.
This high school cultural practice was common to all high schools in Tonga and it was treated seriously by some schools, including Tonga College known as ‘Atele. It was the young ex-students’ proud boast that they obeyed what the older alumni wanted them to do no matter what.
The Tonga Power Board saga
Dr Tu’i’onetoa appointed Dr Eke as the new chairman of the Tonga Power Board. After Kaniva News reported in July that Dr Eke did not tell the truth in court after he stood witness in the Lavulavu fraud hearings, the former Tonga Power Board CEO John Chapman demanded Dr Eke tender his resignation.
Chapman told Dr Eke the judge’s comment was ”reflective of poor leadership and that, I have experienced under your Chairmanship”. Dr Eke refused to resign.
However, two days after Chapman demanded Dr Eke’s resignation, Dr Tu’i’onetoa threatened to fire Chapman as director.
Interestingly, Tu’i’onetoa’s letter to Chapman on June 11, 2021, raised issues from previous years, including a claim that Chapman had failed to advise the TPL Board about the Trust’s decision on December 17, 2020.
After the e-mails between the Prime Minister and Chapman were leaked to media the Prime Minister remarkably changed his tune.
In a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office the following day, Tu’i’onetoa said Chapman had asked to resign for personal reasons due to his intended overseas travel to his family.
Tu’i’onetoa and Eke vs Lavulavu saga
Tu’i’onetoa was heavily criticised for his repeated refusal to do something against Lavulavu from when she appeared in court up to her sentencing. The other person who strongly supported the Lavulavus in court was Dr Eke.
What was common in Dr Eke and Dr Tu’ionetoa’s support for the Lavulavus was that they both appeared to have criticised the presiding judge after he sentenced the couple.
In an e-mail to Kaniva News Tu’i’onetoa likened the judge’s decision to the script in the Holy Bible which said no one was perfect but only God.
After the judge’s remarks saying that Dr Eke “was not desirous of telling the truth” Dr Eke told the media he stood by his statements.
Tu’i’onetoa’s punishment policy
Tu’ionetoa is said to have been chosen as Minister of Finance if Dr Eke is elected Prime Minister. It could be that his withdrawal from the premiership election and support for Dr Eke comes with a high price we will discover later.
However, there is a highly possible scenario in which, if Dr Eke becomes Tonga’s new Prime Minister, he will deliver the same controversial policies created by the Tu’i’onetoa government.
This might include Tu’i’onetoa’s policy of penalising those MPs who did not vote for him in the premiership election by excluding their constituencies from the government’s development projects such as roading, providing water supplies, building new wharves, building new weaving houses and sealing of roads with tar.
It could also include the Tu’i’onetoa policy of offering the government multi-million pa’anga contracts to only government and family members with close ties to the government. This would be a breach of the government law about conflict of interest.