Analysis: Does appointment of Lord Ma‘afu mean PM has lost trust in his independent Cabinet Ministers?

Kaniva News Analysis: 

Lord Ma’afu was appointed Deputy Prime Minister by  the king yesterday after he was nominated by PM Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa to replace former Deputy Prime Minister Sione Vuna Fā’otusia.

Lord Ma’afu. Photo/Tonga Parliament

The move could allow voters to see what is in the Prime Minister’s mind about the upcoming Vote of No Confidence. One of the views is that Tu’i’onetoa has  his trust completely in the seven Noble MPs after it was obvious that two of the Nobles are trapped overseas. Those seven, plus the Prime Minister and MP ‘Akosita Lavulavu make a group of nine. They only need four of the independent MPs to stay loyal to have the numbers to win the vote of no confidence when Parliament resumes in January.

The Democrats only needed two so they can win.

However, there is a question about whether Hon. Tu’i’onetoa still trusts the Independent MPs in Cabinet. The outgoing Deputy Prime Minister, Vuna Fā’otusia, was an independent. Why did the Prime Minister not appoint another independent MP to replace Fā’otusia? Fā’otusia joined the PTOA Party after he was elected to Parliament as an Independent MP, but before the recent premiership election, he joined the People’s Party and supported PM Tu’i’onetoa.

The question that arises is whether the appointment of Lord Ma’afu a show of Tu’i’onetoa’s distrust of his  Independent MPs and Ministers after Fā’otusia’s departure?

Hon Fā’otusia claimed in an interview last week with Kaniva that there were members in Cabinet who supported them and will vote for them. Without naming them, he said these Cabinet ministers did not agree with what the Prime Minister and Lavulavu have been doing for Tonga.

Fā’otusia and PTOA

Kaniva News understands that Hon. Fā’otusia and the nine PTOA MPs regularly held meeting after his resignation and the submission of no confidence motion. Nothing has been made public about any arrangements or who would be in their proposed Cabinet list. We can only speculate at this stage. Because Hon. Fā’otusia helped meet the legal requirement that 10 MPs submit the motion of no confidence, many people have speculated he would be the Prime Minister and Democrat Party Leader Sēmisi Sika would become Deputy Prime Minister.

Observers said if that was the case, it could be very hard for them to persuade any more independents from the government bench to join them. They will need to do some very clever horse trading if they want to win back some of the independents. One suggested outcome is that the PTOA and Fā’otusia would have to trade the Prime Ministership and Deputy position  to Hon. Tu’i’onetoa’s independents. If they gave the premiership to Siaosi Sovaleni and the Deputy role to Poasi Tei for example there would be a high possibility for them to get those two on side. Hon Tu’i’onetoa will also try his best to offer his independents the best deal. However, it appears that Hon. Tu’ionetoa could not step down and allow one of his independents to become Prime Minister, which would benefit the PTOA.

A warning has been posted on Facebook telling PTOA members to stop asking who their new ministers will be. Some PTOA supporters keenly want to avoid what they see as a repeat of previous mistakes where the Party failed to take the reins of power because the members fought each other for power and not for the Party to become the government of the day.

There have also been speculation that some of the Nobles could side with Hon. Fā’otusia and the PTOA when it comes to the vote of no confidence. Unfortunately, history did not support this. These kinds of rumours have been heard many times since the democratic reforms of 2010.

History shows that the Nobles have stuck together and supported the conservatives. They never support the PTOA or any democratic movements because it would put them in a position where they would be opposing the kings and the royals. Only Lord Ma’afu, who joined the ‘Akilisi Pōhiva government, did this. It happened because the late Hon. Pōhiva  wanted someone from the nobility to take the Ministry of Lands because there were sensitive issues in regards to the large blocks of lands in the country owned by the nobility and the royals.

Finally, one of the most important pieces of information the public would be interested to know is whether the PTOA Core Team has developed guidelines on how to act during a vote of no confidence and whether Hon. Fā’otusia would follow them. There is also the very important question of whether they would be going into the vote of no confidence under the PTOA banner or whether the former Deputy Prime Minister would expect the group to re-brand itself and institute new voting rules.

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