The Akilisi Administration is silently tightening the screws on its shaky coalition, after Lord Vaea spoke out about blatant misgivings regarding his reign and Cabinet.
After Vaea’s announcement, the Party machinery and the Party paper Kele’a went into overdrive trivialising Vaea’s intended motion, downplaying the Lord’s sentiments as rooted in past grudges, and “hunger for power”.
Independent MPs who Pohiva had roped into his Cabinet, like Health Minister Saia Piuakala, have been doing the rounds in the press, denouncing Vaea’s intended motion. Party MP, and Pohiva son-in-law, Mateni Tapueluelu also fires from the pulpit of his own Kele’a column, “Thy Kingdom Come”, outright asking Ministers to walk out of the House when Vaea’s Motion pops up in the House’s Agenda.
Pohiva himself has decided to refrain from overt statements in the press on the issue, allowing the minions of his power to snipe at the onslaught first.
At the same time, bureaucratic evasive manoeuvres were triggered by the Pohiva. The Cabinet, dominating the House last week in terms of numbers, used the opportunity to vote to adjourn the session until October because a lot of Ministers would be on travel leave in the next weeks, and Pohiva feared the House might present and vote them out of government while abroad.
It sure is the loudest indication as yet of the insecurity and shaky footing of this Cabinet and Party.
On Prime Minister’s first official visit to New Zealand, over a year-and-a-half into his term, Pohiva asked Vaea to be part of his entourage. On arrival in New Zealand, Vaea was suddenly named the “Leader of the Opposition” by the Prime Minister.
The idea Prime Minister Pohiva hoped to convey to New Zealanders was he has bi-partisan support. But Tonga is not a political party system and there are no “official” factions, just loose coalitions and allies.
Whilst in New Zealand, Vaea let loose the unthinkable: that he will lodge a Vote of No Confidence motion against Prime Minister Pohiva’s leadership. In an interview for the Tongan radio program Dateline Tonga with Tongan Editors Kitekei’aho Tu’akalau and Kalino Latu, Vaea says the Vote “will happen.”
Weeks later, back in the Tongan Parliament, Vaea still insists the vote will go on.
Vaea cites inevitable civic and constitutional responsibility justifications of the Parliamentary Legislature to check the credibility of the Executive, especially given the peculiar ever-mounting controversies that have clouded the Administration and Pohiva himself, including appointing close family members and allies to key positions in Parliament and government, and disastrous and ever-demoralising interventions in education and other sectors.
Additionally, at one point, Pohiva wanted to sack the current Attorney General whilst the AG was investigating and prosecuting Pohiva’s son-in-law and MP for Tongatapu 4 Mateni Tapueluelu, for inconsistencies against the electoral laws. Also Pohiva covered for the infamous former Minister of Infrastructure, Etuate Lavulavu, even after the Minister confessed to financial misappropriations in his Ministry.
The never-ending list of unethical decisions and actions by Cabinet is getting too hard for Pohiva and his hardline supporters to defend.
Operating on a self-stated platform of an “anti-corruption purge” and good governance, Pohiva is a long way from demonstrating it in his own administration.
Vaea is adamant what he’s doing is central to the fabric of the fledgling democracy. Speaking to the Tonga Herald, Vaea says the outcome of the mooted Vote is another matter altogether.
“But it’s my job to raise it.” he says.
He says Government cannot feel it has escaped Parliamentary oversight, otherwise “things would really go wrong”.
Vaea says he is in discussions with current Cabinet Ministers and other Parliamentarians.
If that is true, then there are potential ‘defectors’ in the cracks of the current Administration.
It looks like everyone is talking to each other but no one is saying much really, keeping their cards close.
The cure for insomnia for these poor Ministers, and especially for the shaky footing of the Prime Minister himself — who it at his wits end with the general issue of Governance, forget good governance — will be when Parliament actually votes on her Confidence on Pohiva’s leadership of the Executive.
At the same time, the Independents’ swing vote was key to Pohiva forming his Cabinet with his “Democratic Party”! And the ‘Party’ itself is in name only; the membership consists of Parliamentarians with no formal structural linkages, bound primarily by their individual relationships with Pohiva. The ‘Party’ therefore more aptly fits the term “Alliance formed around Pohiva”, than a proper (or close to it) machinery to express popular will and/or commitment to common values.
Among the wider public, the “Party’s” appeal has been declining in the past years, owing to the centralised and family-oriented and dominated manner in which it is managed. In the last election, Tapueluelu purged the Party again, cutting off renowned thinkers like Dr Sitiveni Halapua for alleged colluding with the Nobles when Halapua himself abstained when Pohiva, still in Opposition, called for the No Confidence Vote on then Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano.
It is unclear if there will be a Vote of No Confidence and, if there is, what the outcome will be. What is clear is that Pohiva and and his ‘Party’ are facing some of their biggest challenges ever, and most are self-created.