Tonga Democrats at a crossroads
Tonga's Democratic Party is at a crossroads as it dumps a third of its MPs shortly before the country's general election.
Just four months out from the general election, Tonga's biggest political party appears to be splintering with four MPs being dropped from the candidates list.
The Democratic Party emerged strongly from the previous election in 2010 when for the first time, a majority of the seats in Tonga's parliament were elected by the people.
The Democrats won 12 of the 17 popularly-elected seats but narrowly missed out on forming a government in the 26-member legislature.
Johnny Blades reports that the party now finds itself at a crossroads.
The Democratic Party, led by veteran pro-democracy campaigner, Akilisi Pohiva, has formed the opposition for the past four years. Heading into November's election, a party-appointed committee has opted to dump Sitiveni Halapua, Sione Taione, Semisi Tapueluelu and Sunia Fili as candidates. Mr Pohiva has distanced himself from the move, saying it was the decision of the committee alone.
AKILISI POHIVA: I was also selected by the party to help the committee and to me that was a good thing, because I'm the one who knows more than anybody else about the current members. And what I did, when they asked me any questions regarding one of the members I had to express my independent, my personal opinion, or my personal assessment and it was entirely up to the committee to make the final decision, that's what actually happened.
However Sunia Fili says it was clear that Mr Pohiva influenced the decision when the Kele'a newspaper, which the leader has close links to, published the candidates list before the committee itself came to a decision. Mr Fili says the MPs are still discussing the committee's selection and hope to forge a resolution that keeps the party united, which is what their constituents want. He says the party has to stay true to its democratic principles.
SUNIA FILI: Because we are still exercising and learning how a new democratic system exists. And while we are still exercising it, we are still... separating eachother and we have to learn. We have to learn. We need more years to come so that we learn more about democratic systems.
Dr Halapua says he was not surprised by the dumping, saying his differences with the party are ideological and have been evident for two years. He says he wants to focus more on addressing what he calls Tonga's development crisis.
SITIVENI HALAPUA: There were a lot of concentration and focus on the struggle for democracy, as a result of which some of the development issues were neglected, as a result of which we are now facing very, very serious challenges and crisis particularly in the area of education and health.
Dr Halapua is calling for a type of paradigm shift in the way Tonga's parliamentarians operate, to follow his idea of kafataha, a government of national balance.
SITIVENI HALAPUA: The only way to address this is not just focus on the interests of one particular group or political party but the interests of the 26 members in the house and try as much as possible to try and reach out and work with as many as possible to address this while we are looking at the other issue of structural change which is also important. But we cannot just focus on one or two and neglect the rest because the people of the country pay the price for it.
Sitiveni Halapua and Sunia Fili seem more or less resigned to contesting the election as independents. However it's still possible that the Democratic Party will need their support anyway if it stands a chance of beating the nobles to form the next government.
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