Popularizing Nobles risks attracting more corruption, destabilize and distort democracy?



THE proposition to have the Nobles elected by popular vote is one with the possibility of most dangerous effects to Tongan society, good governance, and democracy.

If successful, Parliament will have been transformed into an all-powerful House of Representatives without its own internal checks and balances. Or, Parliament will be a House of Lords dominated by the Hou’eiki.

It also means the possibility of dominance of a one party in Parliament, paving the way for a nominal dictatorship which could clash (even violently) with the King, forego the King’s Veto powers or force His Majesty to abdicate. Barring that, the resulting Parliament might hardly function due to internal clashes and infighting, resulting in very ineffective government.

Either way it swings, there is the possibility of great instability given the current vim and animated political emotions.

Instilling greater ‘proportional representation’ at this point does not necessarily mean better governance. Populist politics also have the tendency to corrupt society.

Serious ethical questions loom: how constituencies will be divided, if the inter-Kainga and inter-Ha’a politics will dominate national politics, and if the Land laws be amended.

With regards to the Land, it is unclear that if amended, what government mechanism would be in place to take over the role of the Nobles. Further, there are no guarantees if this new mechanism will be airtight against corruption especially in light of the corrupting effects of foreign investments and interests.

Unaddressed, these issues will be a source of corrosive influence and help in breaking down social and moral values, and expose the country for foreign interference and intervention.

Even if the PTOA does not win the PM ballot, there seems little consideration for a post-PTOA administration where other rising factions, possibly foreign funded, will dominate and utilize such a new system.

In fact, there isn’t a lot of consideration that the Nobles might wield traditional kainga connections, leverage their lands and territories, congregate into the greater Ha’a, and take the whole elections for themselves. The convention for them so far, is to engage populist politics at an arms length. However, in consonance with a struggle for survival and security, they could break forth and make new strides.

A ‘Unified House’ theory this paper takes is, either the Representatives will dominate the House, or the Nobles will (if they are to run alongside each other uniformly as just Members of Parliament). Nobles can run as Representatives, but not vice versa. Tonga’s Legislative Assembly will either be a House of Representatives, or a House of Lords.

The idea is aggressively pursued by the Paati Temokalati ‘Otumotu Anga‘ofa, led by long-time MP Akilisi Pohiva, in a bid to knock out all opposition to the party’s crusade for a “people’s government” in November.

As aspiring candidates and political groups rear up and prepare for this year’s general election, it is expected that dramatic rallying slogans intense enough to bandwagon popular support.

In 2010, the PTOA’s only platform was as the “people’s party”, running against an alleged “government party” who would subvert democratic reforms. No evidence of the secretive “government party” was ever established, and the PTOA has since looked for other platforms.

‘Akilisi blames the Nobles for the party’s loss of the Prime Minister ballot in the previous election. It is perceived the move is only to increase the PTOA’s ability to win the PM Ballot.

In the wake of the election, the PTOA was the biggest single faction in Parliament, although Tonga does not recognize the Party system. The PTOA had hoped that other factions and independent MPs would bandwagon with it.

Unsettled views of PTOA loss

Pohiva himself differs with his fellow Party members and supporters in the cause for the PTOA’s loss of the PM Ballot.

Supporters blame Party member Sunia Fili, MP for Eua, for the disaster. According to them, Fili was the swing vote that tipped the scales for the Vava’u-Nobles led current Tu‘ivakano Administration.

Fili voted for Lord Tu‘ivakano (who has been Cabinet member in the previous Sevele Adminstration, and former Speaker of the House), allowing a coalition of Vavau’s 3 Independent MPs, Niua’s Fe‘ao Vakata, and 9 Nobles to take win the ballot with 14-12 for Tuivakano.

In the current viscous debate between the Pohiva and his Deputy ‘Isileli Pulu over a scandal in the selection of the PTOA’s candidates for November, Pulu blames the Party’s propaganda machine the Kele‘a for Fili’s defection.

Pulu says the Kele‘a’s Editor Mateni Tapueluelu personally attacked Fili and others (including former Deputy Uliti Uata), and “scared them off” and thus antagonized them against the Party. There was Fili’s cause for siding with the Tu’ivakano nomination.

Pohiva has pushed the issue to the forefront of the political debate to also counter fellow Party MP Dr Sitiveni Halapua’s Kafataha or ‘Cabinet of National Unity’ initiative, a broad, power-sharing deal with the Nobility to provide a real inroad for the PTOA into Cabinet. Halapua’s proposition was labeled as an intention to destroy the Party.

Halapua has since been isolated in the Party, and is dropped in Pohiva’s candidates list for 2014 amongst other rejected incumbents.

Sacred grounds

The proposition to popularize the Nobility’s election, also faces fundamental ideational and ideological issues.

In the years preceding the foundation of modern Tonga, the whole country converted to Christianity almost overnight.

However, residues from the civil war that had broken down society by the arrival of the Missionaries made rival Ha’as and Kaingas converted to competing Christian denominations.

Several more denominations and religions have since arrived and thrived in Tonga.

As these denominations have different dogmatic principles, this is another fault-line that politics might exploit or where frictions may erupt.


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