Commentary: Democracy cannot survive without effective and credible opposition

Veteran journalist, Kalafi Moala

By Kalafi Moala


31 Dec 2020 – A working democracy requires credible and effective opposition in place to function properly. Anything less will create a controlling and dictatorial democracy, which will eventually turn into a “failed democracy”.  A strong opposition lends itself as another formidable checks and balances to the governing systems, otherwise, the spirit and practice of authoritarianism will permeate every sphere of its influence and cause democracy to “commit suicide.” We see this repeated through out history.

The opposition, however, to be clear is not the party that lost the election, as in the political structures of most democratic countries like New Zealand and Australia. Nor is it the organized grouping of small parties that now must be in opposition to the government who has a majority rule in Parliament.

This kind of opposition structure in a Parliament stands to oppose anything and everything from the party in government. This opposition even comes up with its own alternative party platform to whatever the government proposes. It is rare that the opposition goes into an agreement with the government on any issue. They will always be at variance.

The problem with this kind of opposition as in most democratic structures is in its aim. It is not an opposition primarily based on truth and justice, but rather on whatever it is that will give them an upper hand over the governing party. Its main goal is the pursuit of power, to replace the current party in power at any cost. But this is not the kind of opposition we are talking about here.

Opposition is a permanent role, a watchdog of power

The opposition we are talking about here, for example, are activists and advocates who take on the responsibility of being the watchdog in society by holding those in power accountable to their actions.

True and genuine opposition is committed and obsessed with the principles of good governance and good leadership. It has an unbending commitment to truth, justice, and righteousness. Honesty is its core policy.

It may not be a political party at all. But it is a moral force that unless it can play its role, then the talk about democracy might just be paying lip service to high ideals.

It has no ambition to be in power. It is primarily and ultimately a permanent prophetic voice to keep power in check, and to oppose corruption and injustice, irrespective of who is in government.

This may be hard to understand by those whose minds and hearts are so locked into a systematic approach to politics. This is the kind of politics that involves a two-way (three or more) tug-of-war for power.

Every system of governance needs to have an opposition, especially in a democracy, whose governing mandate is in the rule of the majority. It is not a bad thing to have majority rule. But just because the majority agrees to something does not make it right. The voice of the minority must also be heard, otherwise, the majority can abuse the rights of those who are silenced.

A majority rejected Jesus in a trial by a Roman Governor. Hitler was elected by a majority of people in Germany.  In this age of democracy, every failed leader or political system may have been democratically elected.  The majority is not always right. Truth and justice are not determined by the will of the majority. What is truth and what is just are pre-determined by the character and the divine nature of a living unchanging God.

Media is called to be an opposition force, not a political party

One of the main spheres that is called to be an opposition force is the media. The chief role of any media worth their salt is to be an opposition force in check of power. The media is socially and politically the assigned watchdog of power.

But most media today have played roles that are different from their classical and traditional calling. Some have become associates of power that only speak that which is supportive of the governing party or group. They have become propaganda voices of a party or group. This is the current state of media in Tonga.

Some are in association with whoever is in power because of their need for financial benefits from advertising and any other contributions from the governing power. In Tonga, the government is the biggest advertiser. The Prime Minister’s Office alone has a $600,000+ price tag in the budget assigned specifically for communication.

They are also selective which media carry their message to the public, including political campaigning. We have media that is pro-government, and we have media that is anti-government. You lose your credibility as an opposition force once you are aligned one way or the other.

And this is one of the reasons why lawlessness, lack of honesty, lack of transparency, and unaccountability, have become the new normal in this country. Instead of the media remaining independent and an opposition force against corruption and bad governance, they are now in bed with the government. Some have come under the control of government, even when government already owns the biggest media company in Tonga.

A politically controlled media fails to hold to account the party or group they are aligned with. They play only an opposition role against the party they do not support. This is a media blindness that can only be healed by becoming truly independent of party politics.

All media should be pro-truth and pro-justice and opposed to corruption and injustice.

Wise decisions are made by alignment with truth and justice

The fragmentation of political thought is not unique to Tonga. Neither is the social fragmentation that has resulted, brought about by various “political beliefs”. Energized by a need to belong to something meaningful, most Tongans have chosen the value of belonging to something or someone, not based on truth but on “what I feel”. Many rarely understand what they believe.

One woman started quoting “victory” verses from scriptures in her posts on social media, encouraging the group she belongs to, that they have “God’s victory”. When you put together different groups opposed to each other, claiming “Gods victory”, it does not mean that God is at war with Himself, but that these blinded adherents to their political groups are at war with themselves.  The self-proclaimed victors are in the end the losers.

It will make an incredible difference in our society if every thinking person would choose to align with truth and justice. There are those who are called like the media to an opposition role, yet that role must be free of dominance by ideology, personality, cultish group-bonds, and anything else that is not of truth.

In the end, being a credible and effective opposition is not a decision to be made by a group, a party, or someone else for you. It is only a decision you can make with a clear conscience that respects truth and justice before political party associations.


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