‘Akilisi Pohiva declares he will stand for Tongan elections one last time

Kiliki: heni ke ke lau 'a e ongoongo ni 'i he lea faka-Tonga

Tonga’s long-time democratic veteran campaigner ‘Akilisi Pohiva will stand for election one last time in this year’s Tongan elections.

If re-elected, the veteran democracy campaigner will end his 30 year political career with one last term in the Tongan Parliament.

Pohiva paid tribute this week to his democratic supporters and wished them well in their coming election.

Pohiva’s supporters want him to become the next Prime Minister of Tonga, an ambition many believe would represent a significant milestone in his political aspiration.

The November election will be Pohiva’s ninth parliamentary terms since 1987, giving him 28 continuous years of being a member of Parliament.

The leader of Tonga’s Democratic Party has come under the spotlight recently, after his Deputy and Secretary rejected a candidate list he endorsed for the party, saying the selection of candidates was biased and unfair.

Pohiva ,72, said the dispute between him and his party members was not something new as he had come through similar rifts during the past nine general elections.   

In the past Pohiva has told his supporters to choose particular candidates because he thought would help him in his fight to bring democracy to Tonga.

These former parliamentarians included lawyer Laki Niu, former Ministry of Education director and first editor of ‘Akilisi’s Kele’a newspaper Viliami Fukofuka and former Ministry of Finance secretary ‘Uhilamoelangi Liava’a.

However a rift developed between Pohiva and his former political colleagues and it reached the point where Pohiva called on his supporters to vote Niu and Liava’a out of Parliament.

Fukofuka was not voted out after Pohiva declared he no longer wanted to work with him, but only retained his seat after a tight contest in which his supporters were almost outvoted. Fukofuka declared he would not stand again at the following general election.   

Analysts say Pohiva’s power was shown when his supporters removed some of his rivals from parliament in the next election.

This week Pohiva spoke encouragingly to his party members. He said Tonga had the academics and a lot of good  economic development plans in place, but the country needed people who had strong ‘political will’ and ‘loyalty to Tonga’ to implement them.

‘Isileli Pulu, Pohiva’s long-time democratic supporter told Kaniva News the dispute between him and Pohiva appeared to be new because this was the first time it had been reported  in the media, but they had disputes in the past.

“It is normal to have disputes over organisation matters and I am the one who always strongly challenged Pohiva on conflicting issues within the party,” Pulu said.

“But when it was sorted out it finished and we continued on to work together as if nothing had happened between us.”

Pulu said the party met early this month and assured Pohiva its members would stand together and support him in the election campaign and make sure he became the next Prime Minister.

“I will not forget the fact that had it not been Pohiva I would not have entered Parliament in 2002,” Pulu said.

“I was given the ministerial post in the government of Lord Tu’ivakano in 2010. I resigned in 2012 and returned to the party before the November 2012 vote of no confidence because I wanted to vote for ‘Akilisi to become the next Prime Minister.” 

The November 2012 vote of no confidence was won by Lord Tu’ivakano after a member of the Democratic Party defected to the government, giving them the number to win the vote.

Pohiva said he stuck by the select committee’s candidate list he endorsed last week. The list selected Pulu as candidate for Tongatapu 4, but dropped party members, including Dr Sitiveni Halapua, for Tongatapu 3, Sione Havea Taione for Tongatapu 8, Semisi Tapueluelu for Tongatapu 10 and Sunia Fili for ‘Eua.

Addressing party colleagues this week, Pohiva said the will of the people was the basis of democracy.

“It is your will that I am seeking and it is your will that people are searching for, just as we are going to seek their will in the upcoming election,” Pohiva told Kele’a.

Veteran New Zealand-based Tongan journalist Sefita Hao’uli said in a document published recently by Dr Teena Brown Pulu that without Pohiva’s political sacrifice Tonga would still be facing a long road to democracy.

 “‘Akilisi  [Pohiva]  is  Tonga’s  most  influential  politician  ever  to  hold power but be uncorrupted by it,” Haouli said.

“When people ask me what has he done in politics, I say that without ‘Akilisi’s 28 year contribution to political life, Tonga would not have changed towards a general acceptance that a democratic arrangement of power is the most relevant way to govern the country.”

Kalafi Moala, the publisher of the Lali Media Network and one of the fiercest opponents of Pohiva in the past 10 years, declared he would support Pohiva in the November election.       

Dr Pulu quoted Moala as saying: “I have to tell you what I’ve been thinking about and working on and maybe you won’t want to be friends with me anymore.”

“I’ve decided to support ‘Akilisi [Pohiva] in the election. Some people don’t want to talk to me now, but there are a lot of people who say, good on you Kalafi, and they agree with me. They say it quietly. In Tonga it’s the common people, the poor who are ‘Akilisi’s support base. But the public servants and the business people, they might endorse him, but they don’t say it loudly.

“It’s possible to lose friends because of who you are supporting in the election.”

The main points

  • Tonga’s long-time democratic veteran campaigner ‘Akilisi Pohiva will stand for election for the last time in this year’s Tongan elections.
  • The November election will be Pohiva’s ninth parliamentary term since 1987, giving him 28 continuous years of being a member of Parliament.
  • Pohiva paid tribute this week to his democratic supporters and wished them well in their coming election.
  • Pohiva’s supporters want him to become the next Prime Minister of Tonga

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