By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa, Tonga – The Vote Of No Confidence (VONC) submitted to Parliament last week has met with a mixture of strong public reactions and expressions of opinions and perspectives, largely based on party lines, or at best, personal preferences without any clear objective reasons.
The two main political parties are PTOA (Democratic Party) and PAK (People’s Party), both less based on philosophical and ideological persuasions, but more on personality tribal cultish tendencies. Both are competing for political dominance in a country that is increasingly losing hope in the integrity of politicians. And for good reason.
PAK is the party that is currently in Government, led by a weak figurehead Prime Minister, Rev. Dr. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, but driven by his political party Deputy Chair, ‘Etuate Lavulavu, a convicted felon and highly controversial character, who is currently facing court cases with criminal charges.
PTOA is the fragmented party that was in the previous Government, led by the late charismatic and erratic leader, ‘Akilisi Pohiva. Despite the disparities among themselves, PTOA still has nine seats in Parliament; most of their representatives could be re-elected in the 2021 Election.
Their nine representatives all signed up for the Vote of No Confidence (VONC) against the Prime Minister. Deputy Prime Minister, Vuna Fa’otusia, who is now resigned from Cabinet, is the tenth member of Parliament to have signed the VONC submission.
But where are the independents or the noble representatives? What are they standing for or in opposition of?
A member in Parliament of PTOA, confided that they already have the numbers come 12 January, to oust the Prime Minister. It is said that some of the nobles have indicated backing the VONC.
Siaosi Sovaleni, who is Minister of Education is rumored to have been appointed as the new Deputy Prime Minister. No further reshuffle is expected within the rattled Cabinet, except that Samiu Vaipulu may retain the Ministry of Justice as Minister.
The partisan nature of Tongan politics
The increasingly partisan nature of Tongan political and cultural life may threaten to tear the small nation apart, in families, churches, and village communities. The Tongans who live overseas seem to be leading the charges however in fighting for either PTOA or PAK, or for whatever they fancy at the moment.
It is good to have a voice from Tongans living abroad. Most have genuine regard for their country of birth or at least the country of their heritage. But unfortunately, the supporters of either PTOA or PAK seem to build their support based on fanatical hate of the one or the other. In other words, “I hate PTOA, so I support PAK; or I hate PAK, so I am for PTOA.”
But even within these two parties, more like tribal groupings, there are serious divisions.
Three different PTOA groups are at each other’s throats as they blame each other for money scandals, losing power in government, and whatever else. In the meantime, the PTOA members of Parliament (Core Team) are trying to “keep the peace” among themselves and keep a cool head while they are determining the purpose of their existence.
For PAK, there are several small groups built around religious associations, yet they are worse at using bullying tactics and foul language to oppose those who criticize or who are in opposition to the Government of Rev. Dr. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa.
There is no real credibility among PAK supporters because most are formed around the fanatical notion that because the PM is a Rev. Dr. and is opposed to PTOA, he needs to be supported at all cost, even if there is serious corruption in their midst. In other words, PAK could do no wrong (or bad for that matter!).
The notion is that it is OK if one of us is a thief, but if one of them is a thief then we must oppose them. It is OK to criticize their criminals while we ignore the criminals in our party. The standard of morality is no longer Biblical or Universal, but tribally determined according to what group you belong to. Not good at all!
PTOA has failed, but could be revived
Let’s get this straight: PTOA has failed when they were in power and they know it. They have had their chance to govern, and they blew it big time. They did the very things they criticized. They failed to carry out what they promised, and they committed some of the worse cases of nepotism and corruption. They wanted so much power and could not handle it, and even with their leader gone, they are still quarreling overpower. Add money to the cause of quarreling, and they will continue in mediocrity whether in opposition or in power.
But they are trying to get their act together. Inevitable divisions in their ranks however illustrate how hard it is for a party to survive without an effective leader and a clear purpose and vision. They need to tone down their misleading rhetoric and upgrade their activities to help people. Get rid of those extremists who advocate for a Tongan Communist Republic.
But party politics in Tonga is relatively a new thing. Tribal and personality driven politics is not new; however, only that now it is framed in political party politics, an idea borrowed from overseas. But also, an idea that caters to the dark side of human nature when it comes to determining leadership. Deceit, betrayals, inflated egos, and selfish ambitions, to name just a few.
There is a deliberate misrepresentation here by both parties. None is outright opposed to corruption and injustice. Much of their opposition or advocacy is more party based rather than morally based.
This is not only a false assumption, but a childish and extremely shallow thinking. It is absurd at best, and ridiculous at worst. An insightful post on social media may be repeated here: “Just because I disagree with you does not mean I hate you. We need to relearn that in our society.”
PAK has also failed, only worse
Two years ago, the statement that ‘Akilisi Pohiva was the worst Prime Minister Tonga ever had was strongly objected to by PTOA supporters. Prime Ministers before him were Lord Tu’ivakano, Lord Sevele, ‘Ulukalala Lavaka, Baron Vaea, Prince Tu’ipelehake, Prince Tungi, and many others before them. But then he passed away and a new Prime Minister with a new Government took over.
A man who was a Christian Minister became the Prime Minister. There was cautious hope among many that maybe the new leadership in Government will help lead Tonga out of the political turmoil it has been through. But this new Prime Minister had formed a new political party (PAK) just before taking the helm. He also reintroduced into political and public life, the deputy of his party, ‘Etuate Lavulavu (a stranger to no one), who for better or worse was more influential on the Prime Minister than the Cabinet.
It may be said without further ado that the PAK Prime Minister had hardly been in the job for 12 months when it became apparent that this man with his government was repeating the same things the previous government was accused of doing, yet they seem to do it without “betting an eye” and worse.
The seven points of contention as outlined in the letter of VONC as previously reported here are the serious infringements alleged against the Prime Minister. But there is much more that basically points to the serious lack of integrity of this man in carrying out his duties as the leader of Government.
He has exceeded the former Prime Minister as the worse Prime Minister ever! And he did it only within 12 months in office.
The issue therefore is not PTOA or PAK. The issue really is choosing what is right. It is not an issue of this party or that party, but what is right, what is of truth, and what is just.
We need a new leader that is selected not because he is PTOA or PAK (we’ve done that before) but because he is a man “with integrity of heart and skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72). This is someone who has good character and competent irrespective of the political groupings or non-groupings he/she is associated with.
As a last resort we may need to amend the Constitution so the King would appoint the Prime Minister from the elected members of Parliament. This will eliminate the “horse trading” that may be going on right now and have proven to only worsen the political climate.
Despite the infringements of the law, the lies, the bullying and arrogant behavior, the outright refusal to listen to anyone else, this Prime Minister cannot find it in himself to admit any mistakes or fault, let alone behavior unfitting for a so-called Church Minister. He proudly claims it is his religious leadership in the fasting tours that had produced a COVID-19-free Tonga.
There is one sin mentioned in the Bible that God actively and aggressively opposes, and that is the sin of pride. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6).
And so, God has answered the prayers and fasting that he has led. Like Saul who was king, he has been found wanting, and without the confidence of the nation. He must be replaced.