Editorial: PTOA Core Team’s actions undermine ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s years of struggle to bring democracy to Tonga and give power to the people

‘E fiema’u ‘e he kau tui temokalati ha kau fakafofonga pe Core Team te nau kavekavea’u ‘a hono hoko atu ‘o e ngāue fakalelei fakapolitikale ke toe fakatemokalati ange hono fakalele ‘o e fonua’ ne tataki ‘e ‘Akilisi Pohiva’. Ko e Core Team lolotonga’ ‘oku nau fai ‘e kinautolu ‘a e me’a fu’u fehangahangai lahi mo e ngāue mateaki mo ta’u lahi ne fai ‘e he helo ko ‘eni ‘o e temokalati. To’o mai pe ha fakatātā ni’ihi: ‘Uluaki, ne pāloti e kau Core Team ia ‘i Fale Alea ‘o poupou ki he kau nōpele mo e pule’anga’ ke fakafoki pe mafai ki hono fakanofo ‘o e sekelitali ‘a e Potungāue ki Muli mei he PSC ki He’ene ‘Afio’. Ko hono lavaki’i lahi ‘eni ‘o e feinga liliu ne fai ‘e ‘Akilisi’. Ua, ne nau paloti ‘i Fale Alea ‘o poupou ki he kau nōpele mo e pule’anga’ ke tali ke ‘oange pa’anga ke tufa fakavāhenga ‘e he kau nōpele ko e taki $25,000. Ne fakafepaki’i lahi ‘e ‘Akilisi ‘a e fokotu’u ko ia ‘i Fale Alea i hono ‘uluaki fakahū ange ‘o ne pehē ‘oku ta’efakatemokalati ia he ‘oku ‘ikai tali ui ‘a e kau nōpele ki he kakai totongi tukuhau’. ‘Ikai ko ia pe, ka na’a ne pehē ‘oku ‘ikai fea ‘a e fakakaukau ko ia’ he ‘oku ‘ikai ha fakafofonga nōpele ‘i Fale Alea ‘a e ngaahi vāhenga kotoa hangē ko e kakai’. Toe kanoni'aki, ko e ngaahi vahenga ia 'e ni'ihi hangē ko Tongatapu 5 'oku nōpele ia 'e ua 'i Fale Alea. Lahi ange honau monū'ia 'o kinautolu he pa'anga ko 'eni lolotonga kuo hala e ngaahi vāhenga ia 'e ni'ihi. Tolu ki ai, toe poupou’i ‘e he Core Team ‘a hono tali ‘o ha lao fo’ou fehu’ia lahi ‘a hono natula fakatu’utāmaki ki he fakamaau’anga ‘a ia ko hono tali ke fakakaukau’i ‘e he kau fakamāu’ ‘a e tukufakaholo’ mo e angafakafonua’ ‘i ha hopo. Pea faka’osi’, na’e tukuaki’i ko e mole ‘a e pule’anga’ ko e ngāue ‘a ha kau fiema’u mafai ‘i he loto Core Team. Ne fakaongo ‘a e kau muimui temokalati ki ha ola ‘o ha ngaue ‘e fai ‘e he Core Team ke fakamahino ko hai ‘oku mo’oni ‘i he ngaahi fetukuaki ko ia’. A’u ki he ‘aho’ ni nau longo mate tala mai pe kuo nau fefakamolemole’aki. Ko e founga ta’efakatemokalati ia, ke tukuaki’i mamafa ha ni’ihi pea tukutuku pe ia ai ta’e fai ha me’a toe kovi ange ko e ‘ikai ke ‘ata mai (transparent) ‘enau me’a ‘oku fai ‘i loto’. 'E hoko e tō'onga fakalai 'a e kau Core Team ko 'eni ke nau fakalotolahi'i 'a e kau nōpele mo honau pule'anga' ke hokohoko atu 'enau fa'u lao natula ki he lelei pe ia 'a kinautolu tokosi'i' kae 'ikai ko e tokolahi taha 'o e kakai 'o e fonua'.

Kaniva Editorial

The PTOA Core Team seems to have completely lost sight of ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s policies and principles.

Their support for the current government and policies that only benefit the nobles threaten to roll back all that the champion of Tongan democracy achieved after the reforms of 2010.

PTOA supporters protesting outside a venue in Mangere, Auckland while PM Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa was holding a meeting with the Tongan community. Photo/Kalino Lātū

It is a situation that should greatly worry Democrats supporters. The Core Team, which consisted of Democratic Party MPs, no longer seems  dedicated to making the late Prime Minister’s vision of a truly democratic Tonga a reality.

Pōhiva was a political reformist who believed the monarchy needed changes. He believed democracy was the right political system for Tonga. He also believed there was need for some immediate changes and also believed in gradual changes through the existing autocratic system which could eventually lead to fundamental changes.

Pōhiva’s core political policy could be summed up by his mission – to free commoners and tax payers politically from the absolute rule of the monarchy and allow them to control the decision making bodies, the government’s executive branch and Parliament. He said the king would still retain his other powers and entitlements stipulated by the constitution, including keeping his estates, privy purse funded from the people’s taxes and his nobles.

Pōhiva was well aware of the danger of having to totally remove the power of the king and nobility all at once. He said it was good to begin with removing the king’s executive powers.

This was clear when I interviewed him in 2011 after the political changes in 2010 when Tonga became partly a democratic system. He told me he was not satisfied with the changes, especially when the king relied on Lord Sevele ‘O Vailahi to implement the changes. Sevele became Pōhiva’s  and the Democrats’ enemy and he did everything to ensure the changes were not what the Democrats expected.

However, Pōhiva said he was okay with it as long as the changes he had pushed for finally materialised and left the rest for the future. He left this important message for the PTOA Core Team or whoever would step up to carry on his mission.  Pōhiva wanted them to continue pushing for more changes.

New law for king to appoint Secretary for Foreign Affairs

Unfortunately, since Pōhiva’s death the Core Team has done the opposite. In Parliament, the Core Team sometimes appears disorganised. They voted in support of a law to return the power to appoint the Secretary of Foreign Affairs to the king. This was a big blow to Tonga’s democracy and if Pōhiva was still alive he would have strongly opposed this move.  Only his son, Siaosi Pohiva, voted against this bill in parliament

New law to consider tradition and custom during trials

Not only that, the Core Team recently voted in support of the noble-led government to allow courts to use traditions and cultural practices in their decision making. Again this was injurious to the democratic reforms the Party’s founder ‘Akilisi pursued for many years. Only Veivosa Taka from the Core Team voted against. It was ridiculous that when the Bill was put into debate some Core Team MPs spoke against it and suggested ways to support their views, but when the Bill was put to the ballot they all voted for it.

New law to give noble MPs $25,000 constituency allowance

They also voted unanimously in support of a move by the noble MPs to give them constituency funding of $25,000 each. This motion was first put into Parliament last year, but ‘Akilisi  strongly opposed it, saying it was undemocratic because the nobles were not elected by the people and they were unaccountable to taxpayers.

He said if the nine Nobles in Parliament were given the allowance, this would set them apart from other Nobles who were not in the House and would not get the same benefit for their estates.

Democrat frontliner Mateni Tapueluelu, who fiercely attacked the noble MPs move to get a share of the constituency funding at the time, has given a very muted response when the motion was resubmitted and discussed in Parliament this year before it was approved.

Lack of transparency and accountability

The Core Team has recently been criticised for its lack of transparency and accountability in its decision to forgive MP Māteni Tapueluelu after claims were made that he and his brother-in-law Siaosi Pohiva had engaged in a power struggle that may have lost the Party the government in 2019.

The Core Team’s decision to keep the public in the dark was undemocratic and it undermines the public’s confidence in its impartiality.

‘Akilisi was always transparent and come clean about situation like this.

There is a real danger that the Core Team’s continued support for the nobles will encourage them and the government to continue to make laws to roll back the democratic changes of 2010 and return power to the king.

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