CEDAW referendum would be political suicide for government, says Justice Minister

Tonga’s Minister of Justice Hon. Vuna Fa’otusia told Kaniva News last night that holding a referendum on the Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) would be “political suicide” for the government.

Hon. Fa’otusia said that in any case the government could not immediately hold a referendum because the kingdom’s legal framework did not allow for it.

The Minister’s comments follow a statement by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva that he was thinking of calling a referendum on the issue.

Speaking on the way back from Japan, the Prime Minister said he had considered the referendum option after a number of church leaders led protest marches in Nuku’alofa while he was away.

The first march was on Wednesday and local media claimed it had been joined by about 300 members. The second march was held on Friday, with Matangi Tonga online estimating that about 500 people had taken part.

The marchers claimed CEDAW would open the door to same sex marriage and abortion.

CEDAW supporters claimed the church leaders who were behind the protests were opponents of the current government.

The Justice Minister said CEDAW had become an issue because of “misconceptions” about the convention by some church leaders.

No referendum law

“The government cannot hold  a referendum because we do not have the legal mechanism to do so,” Hon. Fa’otusia said.

He said the government would have to introduce and adopt legislation to make a referendum possible.

Many countries that had not ratified CEDAW allowed “all the things the church leaders are afraid of,” such as same sex marriage and abortion, he said.

The Minister said the government would not legalise such practices because it would be politically dangerous to do so.

Tonga’s Minister for Internal Affairs Hon. Fe’ao Vakata said those opposed to CEDAW had forgotten that the UN’s convention was design to “elevate” women in their rank, power and dignity.

The Minister told Kaniva News  the cabinet’s decision to ratify CEDAW still stood.

Hon.Vakata said cabinet would hold its next meeting this Friday and he hoped the Prime Minister’s referendum option would be on the agenda.

Warning

However, the Prime Minister has warned that any referendum process would be costly and time consuming.

He said CEDAW was a United Nations’ initiative introduced in Tonga 12 years ago to help local women.

He said he was mystified that no church leaders or groups had raised concerns about the convention while it was debated in the House or while the Tonga Civil Society conducted workshops on it in the past.

In an interview with Tnews New Zealand in Tongan, Hon. Pohiva said the issue had divided the nation and that he  “believed” a referendum should be carried to let the people make the decision.

The main points

  • Tonga’s Minister of Justice, Hon. Vuna Fa’otusia, told Kaniva News last night that holding a referendum on CEDAW would be “political suicide” for the government.
  • Fa’otusia said the government could not hold a referendum because the kingdom’s legal framework does not allow for one.
  • The Minister’s comments follow a statement by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva that he was thinking of calling a referendum on the issue.
  • CEDAW supporters have claimed the church leaders behind the protests were opponents of the current government.

For more information

Women’s advocate says Tongan CEDAW protesters misled (RNZI)

Opposition but Tonga Govt firm on CEDAW (RNZI)

Church leaders take petition opposing CEDAW to palace (PMC)

March in Tonga against ratification of CEDAW (UNDP)

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