17 Nov 2017

Tongans back Pohiva's Democratic Party

4:18 pm on 17 November 2017

'Akilisi Pohiva's Democratic Party has won a resounding election victory in Tonga, with voters seemingly continuing to back political reform.

This week's election was brought forward a year, after the King dissolved parliament over concerns about the Pohiva government's conduct.

'Akilisi Pohiva

'Akilisi Pohiva Photo: RNZ / Koro Vaka'uta

Mr Pohiva's Democratic Party won 14 out of the 17 People's seats.

Publisher and commentator Kalafi Moala said it was a remarkable and unexpected feat.

Mr Moala said Mr Pohiva has had his critics lately, but his brand has remained strong.

"He has declined in terms of numbers but he's still the most dominant politician that's influenced politics in Tonga," he said

Auckland University of Technology's Teena Brown Pulu, is a senior lecturer and Tongan politics researcher.

Dr Pulu said the Democratic Party continued to be a force.

"They campaign as a party. When they come out to campaign in the villages, 'Akilisi is there with his whole 17-strong team and they are powerful and they can draw in a crowd," she said.

"If you are an independent, you really have to canvas at a community level and work differently. You can't be campaigning in tit-for-tat with 'Akilisi when he is 17 people strong and has 30 years in parliament."

'Akilisi Pohiva was first elected into parliament in 1987 and was the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister.

Dr Pulu agreed with Kalafi Moala that Mr Pohiva remained the most influential and possibly strongest figure in Tongan politics.

Mr Moala found it interesting that the public had not listened to the accusations surrounding the conduct of Mr Pohiva and the last government.

The old Tongan parliament buildings

The old Tongan parliament buildings Photo: RNZ Pacific/Koro Vaka'uta

There were claims the government had acted unconstitutionally by signing international agreements without the King's approval and the dissolution was the end of a term full of controversy, including the late withdrawal from hosting the 2019 Pacific Games, the development of a heritage site and an ongoing spat with the state broadcaster.

Mr Moala said, in the end, it didn't matter.

"Even the fact that there have been the proclamations everywhere during this campaign that this is the most scandalous government that's ever been in Tonga, obviously nobody listened to that. It's quite interesting. It was like teflon, it just comes out and it hits people and it falls off," he said.

The top-polling candidate and Democratic Party member, Pohiva Tu'ionetoa, said the result showed the people did not agree with the dissolution of Parliament.

"Although the House has been dissolved, they do make a strong statement, that the people want the democracy to progress. The people state that the dissolution of Parliament was not the proper way to progress in democracy in this country," Mr Tu'ionetoa said.

'Akilisi Pohiva and his party made no secret that they wanted changes, continuing to push for the government rather than the King to appoint positions like the Police Commissioner, the Attorney-General and the Anti-Corruption Commissioner.

They've also called for cabinet ministers to be included on the King's advisory Privy Council.

Tongan MP, Pohiva Tu'ionetoa

Tongan MP, Pohiva Tu'ionetoa Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

Pohiva Tu'ionetoa said there would be no change in approach from the Democratic party.

"I think what we have been focussing on so far, and then the dissolution seem to have stopped what we have been doing and I think at this stage we should be progressing on the same way," he said.

Teena Brown Pulu said there was no onus on Mr Tu'ionetoa and his colleagues to change tack.

"The Democrats have no reason to back-down because this election was all about the dissolution and it was a protest election.

"It was a snap election, a surprise election, but it was also a voice of protest where the people were sending out a very strong message to the nobility that you need to shift your thinking," Dr Pulu said.

"A democracy is meant to progress, it's meant to improve, it's meant to become more inclusive."

The Democratic Party's landslide victory included two women, former Ministry of Agriculture CEO Losaline Ma'asi and Vava'u's 'Akosita Lavulavu, who won a by-election last term to replace her husband.

Previously there had only been five women elected into Tonga's parliament.

Seven of the nine seats set aside for the 33 hereditary Nobles and five life peers, were returned to the incumbents, with Lord Fakafanua and Lord Vaha'i of Ha'apai and and Tongatapu respectively, entering parliament afresh, although the latter needed a coin toss to decide a tied vote.

Lord Fusitu'a was re-elected as Noble's representative to the far north Niuas.

Noble's MP, Lord Fusitu'a

Noble's MP, Lord Fusitu'a Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

He said Thursday's election should be used as an opportunity to heal the divisions of the past term and parliamentarians could learn from the last few years.

"The country as a whole, particularly the MPs, there is some healing that needs to be done and I think a return to our historical paradigm, which was the Noble's MPs working in consensus with the People's MPs towards a common goal of building the nation as well as possible and finding a way forward."

The country will now await the Return of the Writs, which has to happen by November 30th, and then MPs will meet to elect a Prime Minister and form government.

Full election results

People's Representatives for:

Tongatapu - 'Akilisi Pohiva, Semisi Sika, Siaosi Sovaleni, Mateni Tapueluelu, Losaline Ma'asi, Poasi Tei, Vuna Fa'otusia, Semisi Fakahau, Penisimani Fifita, Pohiva Tu'ionetoa.

'Eua - Tevita Lavemaau.

Ha'apai - Mo'ale Finau, Veivosa Taka.

Vava'u - Saia Piukala, 'Akosita Lavulavu, Samiu Vaipulu.

Ongo Niua - Vatau Hui.

Noble's Representatives for:

Tongatapu - Lord Tu'ivakano, Lord Ma'afu, Lord Vaha'i.

'Eua - Lord Nuku.

Ha'apai - Lord Tu'i'ha'angana, Lord Fakafanua.

Vava'u - Lord Tu'ilakepa, Lord Tu'i'afitu.

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