By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa, Tonga – It ended not so much as a Vote of No Confidence (VONC) on Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, as much as a VONC on the PTOA party and their members in Parliament. Won by 13-9, PM Tu’i’onetoa not only survived being ousted, but also got the boost he needed in having the controversial ‘Etuate Lavulavu as his Chief Advisor and Deputy Leader of the PAK party.
There were a number of variables that could have happened, but Parliament chose to keep the status quo even if it’s only for less than a year, as the next general election is coming up in November.
The PAK party and its supporters, both in Tonga and overseas, are relieved from facing possible elimination from the frontline of power, if their leader was ousted from his position.
It would have meant Parliament would vote for a new Prime Minister, and PTOA members especially, were quite hopeful that if the VONC went their way, one of their leaders would become Prime Minister. PTOA members would have filled Cabinet positions. It did not happen, and you could hear PAK supporters saying “thank God.”
But this is where PTOA made a huge mistake. Their defeat in the VONC can be put squarely on their lack of political cohesiveness and their failure to understand and read the future of the political mood in the country. Their defeat was their own fault, if one is to be blamed.
The PTOA members, however needed to be commended for their courage to stand up and initiate the VONC. The points outlining the reasons for the VONC were valid, and as one of the nobles said in Parliament: “government needed to pay attention to!”
Former PAK Deputy Prime Minister Vuna Fa’otusia was the leadership force PTOA needed to stage the VONC. But they failed to move beyond themselves and think of what was going to be good for the country. PTOA, by the way is not known for thinking of what’s good for the country. They were more in delusions of grandeur established in the notion that “I need to be in power, and I know best what’s good for the people.”
This was demonstrated in how they took it upon themselves that the VONC was a PTOA movement against PAK, rather than a conscientious action against corruption and poor governance.
There were those who were in opposition to the Prime Minister and PAK and the breaches to the law committed, but they did not want to join PTOA in order to do this, but rather to stand independently based on their conscience. There were several members of Parliament who were of that mentality. But the more PTOA stayed aloof with false confidence they would win, the more those who could have supported their action were turned off with their past mendacity.
But PTOA saw this VONC as an opportunity to assert their will and vision on Tonga’s Parliament against PAK, and they failed miserably. The politically ignorant and still fanatical support they got from people overseas, some even gathering in protest meetings, and proposing for a march in New Zealand. And even in Tonga, PTOA supporters were planning a march to support the VONC. They did not get Police permission.
How on earth would they think that this would help swing support in Parliament for the VONC? This was not a general election that depended on people voting. This was a VONC that depended on the members of Parliament voting. Instead of wooing noble and independent members in humility, they were assertive as to what they want, and wooed nobody.
Even before the Parliament session for the VONC started, PTOA members knew they did not have the numbers.
The noble members in Parliament were defeated as much as PTOA
Just as PTOA members shot themselves on the foot, the noble members also lost the opportunity to take leadership and be the real power brokers bringing some unity and peaceful political co-existence.
The nobles held the winning card. The ten members who signed for the VONC only needed three to vote with them and win. But none did. No one from the nobles or independents moved over to side with the petitioners for VONC.
If the PTOA members with Vuna would have humbly gone to three or four of the nobles and offer to support one of them as Prime Minister, and the others for Cabinet posts, there could have been a difference in the ballot. Obviously the “horse trading” did not go well. “Horse trading” carried out in an egotistical spirit will certainly reap different results from that done in a spirit of humility and care for the good of all.
But even if PTOA did not do that, the nobles should have taken the initiative to approach them and offer help and take the lead in the power reorganization of Parliament. They are the ones that could broker the power components to enable the notion of working together in a non-partisan pathway to develop the nation.
They did not do this because they cannot, as they are not too different from PTOA or PAK, not only in their political immaturity, but more so in their fragmentation due to the power struggles and personal animosity among themselves. And two of their nine members – Fusitu’a and Vaha’i – were not in Parliament, as they were still out of the country.
Two missed opportunities – PTOA and the nobles – mean Tonga is going to have to endure another weak and corrupt government for another year.
One thing fore sure however, that the PM’s victory is also a huge victory for Lavulavu. The VONC means that every single member who voted in support of the PM, essentially voted for Lavulavu, and all that he stands for. It means that the significant conscience vote in Parliament is non-existent, for their ballot on January 12 was a vote for corruption, illegality, injustice, and poor governance to not only survive but to thrive.
To their credit, the PTOA members voted against what Lavulavu and Tu’i’netoa represented. PAK members are happy they will continue to reap the benefits of supporting PAK. And the nobles, if anything, will really need to get their act together if they want to play any significant role in the future governance of the nation.