A call for Tonga's politicians to work together
Former deputy leader of Tonga's Democrats explains why he is not contesting next week's election.
107 candidates line up to contest next week's national elections in Tonga but one prominent person missing is Sitiveni Halapua.
The well-known academic had been the deputy leader of the biggest party after the previous election, the Friendly Islands Democratic Party, but fell out with Akilisi Pohiva who heads the party.
Dr Halapua told Don Wiseman that a fundamental difference in approach was behind their parting.
DR SITIVENI HALAPUA: Absolutely. There is a difference, a fundamental difference between the way I looked at how we move forward and that of how Akilisi sees it. I think that drift and that difference is fundamental and is not reconcilable in Tonga. Maybe it's important for me to step back and do what I'm also interested in. I mentioned about development in Tonga and doing my own writing and see how it is going to work out, particularly with Akilisi, because as you know he's a very, very influential personality and person and he's been working there for many years. Also I would like the people to see it more clearly and decide for themselves if that is what they want and how they want to move forward into the future will be decided in this election.
DON WISEMAN: Your more collegial approach is quite different to, I think it would be fair to say, the typical Tongan way has been adversarial hasn't it?
SH: Yes. There's no doubt that there is a lot of dissatisfaction, people dissatisfied with the system and especially our leaders to some significant extent and I think Akilisi has helped to develop that kind of thinking in Tonga, and rightly so, in many ways. He has been responsible for the push for change but what is beginning to show, particularly after the election 2010, there's very little thinking that goes into what is it the parliament and parliamentarians in particular and government, what they should do together in order to move the country forward and to me that is key to restore people's confidence, not only in the change that they've been working very hard to achieve for many years but also to have some trust in parliamentarians and in government. As you know, political change is a very recent phenomena in Tonga, particularly this whole notion of democracy. To me to continue to have that faith in the idea of democracy and the people's confidence in the parliamentary system and their representation, parliamentarians themselves and Akilisi in particular have to work extra hard to show some benefit, some fruits of what the people have been hoping for for many years. To me that can only be achieved or can only be shown through political leaders, particularly parliamentarians and Akilisi showing leadership in trying to work together, even with people they don't trust. That's the nature of politics. You have to reach out and work with those that you think you have difficulty with for the sake of the people and the sake of the country. Until our political leaders see that, until our parliamentarians see that, I think the biggest danger is that the people will begin to lose faith in the system and the whole notion of democracy will be a casualty, particularly at the early stage of political reform and development in Tonga.
DW: Other people might say, this is an early stage, that Tonga has not had the ability to elect the majority of its MPs for very long at all and it's a process you need to work through. In terms of this going into elections without policies, this is what happens across the Pacific isn't it? There's not a great deal of laying out a programme anywhere in the Pacific. It's very much about acquiring power and them doing what it is you would like to do.
SH: You are absolutely right. My disappointment in Tonga in it's early stage of political change and the excitement of political development and the introduction of a democratic system is that it appears to me that we're moving down the same path as the other Pacific island countries. Politics is about winning elections. Campaigns is about winning the elections. It's not about policy. It's not about what to do after you win the election and more importantly to me, particularly in the Pacific Islands, particularly in Tonga, it's really how to work together to achieve the policy you have in mind and more importantly you have articulated for the people to understand. We haven't really passed the first stage. Even in the election campaign, it's very similar to that in Solomon Islands or elsewhere in the Pacific Islands. It's about winning elections. It's about vote for me and I will go and do something but that something is never defined, never talked about. It's never explained clearly to the people. Unfortunately it does not help political development. It doesn't help the people to understand the system better and how they the people can work the system because people they are limited to the limitation of politicians way of thinking. The limitation of the politician becomes the limitation of the country and the people, which is really sad. If their way of thinking about politics is campaigning and winning elections and maintaining those positions in parliament then to me, it is sad and it won't take long before people will lose confidence in their own system.
DW: Are there other people in Tonga who think like you do?
SH: There are very few. The reason being, the Akilisi factor is still very, very strong and he is very influential. That's why I think this election will be a test for that. Whether it is still strong or is it going down or whatever. That is to do with blaming the others for everything and vote for me but never vote for me because this is what I believe, this is what I plan to do and this is my vision for the future and so forth. So for that reason, unfortunately our own academics, Tongan academics, whom I think they have the responsibility to do a more objective analysis the way politics in Tonga are going. They're not really doing that. In fact, more or less sometimes when they talk, they just talk like the politician in Tonga but in a different language. That's part of the reason I feel that maybe I can have a little bit of influence and try to finish this book. I'm more interested in the education aspect of change in Tonga and more importantly, in making the people understand better the processes and their role rather than being confined to what a politician tells them who to vote for and who to blame if something is not working and is not going very well for the country.
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