OP-ED: Tu’i’onetoa’s sudden drop out of premiership race should compel kingmaker noble MPs to elect the popular premiership candidate

    OP-ED The withdrawal of interim Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa from the premiership race because of an apparent lack of support from MPs could be the biggest upset in Tonga’s parliamentary election history.

    Dr Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa. Photo/Kalino Lātū

    It came after his election on November 18 and his return to Parliament filled his supporters with pride.

    But now there has been sudden change of mood and a lot of disappointment among his supporters, mainly because his promises of more economic and social developments in his constituency if he was given a further term as PM did not happen.

    The fall of Tu’i’onetoa

    The fall of Tu’i’onetoa could be a clear sign of his unpopularity in terms of his failed leadership and his controversial, biased development and economic policies and unfair distribution of the country’s opportunity and wealth.

    He played peacemaker and pretended that he could treat everybody equally under his call for unity “counting two as one policy” but he did not. In most of his public statements, especially in the lead up to the November election Tu’i’onetoa’s credibility and integrity were seriously called into questions because of what his critics described as misleading and unfounded information used by the religious leader to attack opposition MPs and the Democrats.

    He appeared to have twisted the truth about the raft of controversial bills pushed by the late ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s government to look as if it was an attempt by the Democrats to dethrone the king while in fact the bills were based on the Pursglove report which was endorsed in 2014 by the Lord Tu’ivakanō government but never implemented.

    Fear the history might repeat 

    The shocking and unexpected dumping of Tu’i’onetoa by all his interim Cabinet Ministers except for Niua MP Vātau Hui in the premiership contest should be the perfect indication of his shortcomings. It appeared his Ministers were just working silently without questioning his leadership before the November election, but they did not accept his ways.

    Tu’i’onetoa was the first Prime Minister since the political reform of 2010 to have publicly announced his desire to take revenge on his political enemies and allies as well as their constituents by excluding them from the government’s development and economic policies.

    There was fear that Tu’ionetoa’s support for a Dr ‘Aisake Eke’s government could continue to promote this type of unacceptable and unpopular precept.

    Nobility must be fair

    If the support for the premiership candidates stood as it was today, December 12, with 11 MPs in total for Interim Education Minister Siaosi Sovaleni and six MPs supporting Dr ‘Aisake Eke than the potential winner would be Sovaleni.

    However, the majority rule votes for Sovaleni faces a formidable hurdle – the nine minority elected nobility MPs’ votes must decide the winner. The Nobles must choose which candidate to support to give him the 14 votes necessary for victory.

    No longer a secret ballot

    In the previous premiership elections, the MPs’ supports for the candidates were not made public until the results of the secret ballots were announced. But this year it was different because Sovaleni had already revealed the MPs who were supporting him before the election day. He should be credited for making such a milestone contribution to Tonga’s endeavour to uphold transparency amid its very new and complicated system of democracy.

    The Noble MPs must do the decent thing by either abstaining from voting to allow a people’s majority rule to elect the new prime minister or they must vote for the candidate with the support of the most MPs.

    It is the rule of the majority and the rights of the minority that are the core values of democracy.

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