30 Oct 2013

Push for the people of Tonga to elect all MPs

5:40 pm on 30 October 2013

A week after the failure of a private members bill to bring more democratic reforms to Tonga's parliament, the opposition is planning further moves early next year.

Last week Aisake Eke led an attempt to have the prime minister directly elected by the people but this was defeated in the Legislature Chamber.

But the leader of the Democratic Party, Akilisi Pohiva, says they have no intention in letting up on a campaign to bring more democracy.

He told Don Wiseman that they intend presenting another private members bill in the next session, early next year.

AKILISI POHIVA: That private bill requests the house to allow the people of Tonga to elect four members of parliament, including representatives of the nobles under the current system. The 9 nobles are elected by the 33 official nobles. So this small group of nobles is still in the structure of parliament. What we want to see happen, we want all members, including the 9 representatives of the nobles, to be elected by the people.

DON WISEMAN: The people would vote for them, but they'd be choosing a noble from another noble, so to speak?

AP: As I said, as it stands now, the 33 nobles elect 9 nobles to the house. And that private bill would allow all the people of Tonga to elect all the members of parliament, including the 9 representatives of the nobles. This is what we want to see happen next year or next election.

DW: Would that make that much difference in the end, given that there's such a small pool of people to choose from, just from the 33 noble families? Is it going to actually make much difference to the make-up of parliament?

AP: Yes. The most important thing is accountability. What is happening now, the 9 representatives of the nobles are not accountable to the people -they are accountable to the 33 nobles. So there is a great accountability in the structure of parliament as it stands now. What will happen if all people elect all the representatives of parliament, including the 9 nobles, the whole parliament will be accountable to the people and not as we have it now.

DW: There's an election a little over a year away. How confident are you that you might get some changes through a greater degree of democracy in place in time for that election?

AP: Well, I think this is the only practical change we can see now. If not, we will continue on and maybe after next election we will continue to try and ensure that all the people elect all members of parliament.That is the only solution which makes sure that the government is accountable and parliament is accountable to the people of Tonga. This is the only way.