Pohiva cautious in picking his candidate for Tongatapu 4


‘Akilisi Pohiva’s Democratic Party finally released its list of candidates for the November election this week.

The release follows months of turmoil during which he booted out six sitting party MPs.

The list confirms 16 party candidates which includes a mix of 12 familiar and fresh new faces.

The party has still not nominated a candidate for Tongatapu 4, the electorate currently holds by the Party’s ousted Deputy Leader MP ‘Isileli Pulu.

Tongan law does not endorse political parties, but the last general election proved that campaigning as a party to win the power and run the government could work in Tonga.

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Tonga’s Democratic Party won 11 seats in the 2010 election in the Tongatapu and Ha’apai electorates. The number increased to 12 before the election of the Prime Minister after independent MP ‘Aisake Eke declared he would support the Party.

Pohiva’s party only needed the support of two more candidates from among the independent MPs to form the government.

The problem was that Pohiva did not want to bow his head to the independent MPs.

Pohiva fought with the independents and said that if they became party members in return for rewards, then they would only work for rewards and not for the benefit of the people.

However, in many developed countries independent candidates hold the balance of power when major parties do not have enough numbers to govern on their own.

The question is,  how much of this is about promoting democracy and how much is simple horse trading.

If Pohiva had been prepared to horse trade he would have offered the independents ministerial posts. He chose not to do that.

As a result, the nobles, who automatically hold nine parliamentary seats under the Tongan constitution, stole the show and offered five independent MPs ministerial posts including the post of deputy prime minister. This gave them the numbers they needed to form the government.

For Pohiva and his party to hold power and lead Tonga after the November election, the longtime democratic campaigner has to be prepared to give and take.

He should consider independent candidates as friends as they are integral part of the democratic system, especially when the numbers are close.

Pohiva has removed six MPs from the candidate list he endorsed, but what is of serious concern to many was that he did not consult those MPs’ respective electorates. This will be a big challenge for him in the November election.

Historically, Pohiva’s choice of candidates has not always brought the results he expected.

In 1996 he split with his longtime political affiliate, Viliami Fukofuka and called on Tongatapu’s electors to vote him out. Fukofuka was still elected, although he fought a very tight contest and his supporters were almost outvoted

In 2010 there was a tight contest in Tongatapu 6 in which his party’s candidate won 735 votes while the first runner up independent had 731 votes.  In Tongatapu 5 the party’s candidate only won 302 votes while the two leading independent candidates gained 679 and 616 votes respectively.

Pohiva sacked another of his longtime political colleagues, MP Sunia Fili, from the Party in 2010 but Fili’s electorate still voted him in. Fili sided with the nobles and he was the one who nominated Lord Tu’ivakano to become Tonga’s Prime Minister.

Many of Pohiva’s supporters still believe he and his party will win this year’s election, based on his popularity and political fame.

However, it is still difficult to tell whether the Democratic candidates won seats at the last election because people voted for Pohiva and the party or whether they voted for candidates as individuals.

The six Party sitting MPs who were removed from the party’s list are still members of the Party, but claim they still have the trust of their constituents and will return to Parliament.

These MPs claim the Party’s proposed list of candidates for the coming election campaign has been influenced by people who are not party members. There have been heated exchanges between MP Pulu and Pohiva’s son-in-law, Mateni Tapueluelu, editor of Pohiva’s Kele’a newspaper, about whether Tapueluelu helped mastermind the Party’s election strategy.

Pohiva’s candidate list:

  1. ‘Akilisi Pohiva
  2. Semisi Sika
  3. Rev SImote Vea
  4. To be nominated
  5. Dr ‘Aisake Eke
  6. Salesi Fotu
  7. Sipola Havili
  8. Semisi Fakahau
  9. Penisimani Fifita
  10. Dr Pohiva Tu’ionetoa
  11. Tevita Lavemaau
  12. Mo’ale Finau
  13. Veivosa Taka
  14. Latu Malolo
  15. ‘Anisi Bloomfield
  16. ‘Ipeni Siale
  17. Peauafi Haukinima

The main points

  • ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s Democratic Party finally released its list of candidates for the November election this week.
  • The release follows months of turmoil during which booted out six sitting party MPs.
  • Historically, Pohiva’s choice of candidates has not always brought the results he expected.
  • If he and the Democratic Party want to hold power after the November election, they must be prepared to do deals with independent candidates.
  • Pohiva refused to do this after the 2010 elections and control of the house and the Prime Ministership remained with the nobles.

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