Tonga poll unlikely to initiate great change - academic
A political scientist analyses what can be expected in the Tonga election this Thursday.
Tongans go to the polls on Thursday for just the second election under political reforms brought in 2008.
Those changes allow for the people to elect 17 MPs and the nobles to elect nine of their colleagues.
After the 2010 election the nobles ended up dominating the government and Don Wiseman asked political scientist and the Pasifika director at Massey University, Malakai Koloamatangi, if a new government will bring great change to Tonga.
MALAKAI KOLOAMATANGI: Probably not. I think it's going to bring in a government that will certainly have to grapple with issues that this government is having to deal with. It's because of the fact that, well a number of things, but really because of the context of the framework, the environment within which this government or the new government will have to exist. And it's because of this movement towards more democracy. And the movement has a number of factors. Firstly of course is the attempt to try and entrench a democratic culture within government. I mean you can have all the legislation, legal frameworks and so on in place, but if there isn't a democratic culture. And here I mean you're getting used to transparency, getting used to accountability to parliament and to the people ultimately. And those things do not happen over night. So the new government will have to grapple with that. They also of course will have to deal with the problem with the economy and the social issues, health, climate change, infrastructure, all those normal things that governments have to grapple with.
DON WISEMAN: All of these things, this is what the government had to deal with over the last four years but I think a lot of people might say it's managed to avoid doing so?
MK: Yes, it has to a certain extent. And the reason why is that I think that there has been a measure of tolerance by Tongans because they know that this is a work in progress. And we're moving, or supposed to be moving towards more democracy, a better system of government, a better way of doing things, working for the people. But you know people's patience will be tested. And that's the problem I see, is that when people become disenchanted with the democratic process or disenchanted with the attempts by successive governments to improve things, that's something that all governments, including this new one that's going to come in, will have to grapple with. And to do it smartly as well and not to raise the unrealistic expectations of people. So that's what I meant about the whole democratic culture in government. And the whole framework or the environment in which this new government will have to work in.
DW: The Democrats, a key part of their plank is that they want greater accountability brought about by having everyone elected by the people. Others are saying it's too soon to worry about trying for more political reform. Where do you stand?
MK: Well from a political scientist's point of view, I mean it's fascinating because this whole reform process of course is taking place within a developmental environment. And so everything is seen or should be seen in this movement towards more development, not only political development but also of course economic development and development in other areas. And the Democrats have been successful so far because they haven't actually preached more economic development, more social development. What they've actually preached is that, in order to get all this development, or in order for Tonga to become a better society, it must have political reform as the basis. So if they move away from that and hark back to a more pragmatic stance then they will have a problem. And the democratic reform process I think will be derailed.
DW: Another spoke in this wheel are the ideas being put forward by Sitiveni Halapua in suggesting this idea of a collegial approach to solving the problems and everyone learning to work together. It's also been suggested to me that in fact is how it always used to be in Tonga.
MK: That's right, it's nothing new. In fact the Tongan parliament was set up in such a way that it was supposed to sidestep adversarial politics. And really to look at a way of enlightening the chiefs, the government and the people. So the three tables as they are normally referred to. And that's how it's also been done in the past. Hence the non appearance of political parties in the past. And so we're supposed to have this united front, coalition type parliament. I mean Halapua is quite right to propose that. But that's something that people are actually opposed to because that's what was in the past and they see that as a failure. So why go back to that?
DW: There was this expectation in 2010 that the election would result in a popularly elected MP becoming Prime Minister. It didn't happen then, will it happen this time?
MK: It could. But there are some things that need to take place for that to happen. And that is that the people's representatives have to be united regardless of whether they're pro democratic or pro monarchy and so on. For example, voters in Vava'u who have seemed to be supporting the Monarchy. So the representatives from Vava'u are seen as being pro monarchy or pro the status quo before 2010. So the Vava'u representatives to some extent will hold the balance of power, they will hold the key to whether the people's representatives from Tongatapu, 'Eua and Ha'apai and Niua will have the numbers to defeat the other side so to speak. On the other hand what we have to remember is that the nobles are quite united. They are a united block in parliament. So to get common MPs to become the Prime Minister, either you will have to break up that block, the nobility, the nobles block and entice some of them to cross the floor as it were. Or you make sure you have the numbers, the MPs numbers and including the ones from Vava'u. So that's a big ask. And so unless those things happen, I'm afraid we're in for another four years with a noble PM.
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