Disarray in Tonga’s Democratic Party revealed

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With national elections less than a year away, Tonga's Democratic Party is in disarray after party leader 'Akilisi Pohiva's newspaper Kele'a reported what it said was a plot by several Democratic MPs to support Dr Sitiveni Halapua rather than Pohiva as the party's candidate for the Prime Minister in 2012.

The newspaper claimed that three Democratic Party members, including People’s Representatives Semisi  Tapueluelu and Sione Taione planned in 2012 to replace him with fellow parliamentarian Dr Sitiveni Halapua.

Kele’a alleged that the plan was made in 2012 when the Democratic Government lodged a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano.

It claimed that if the vote had gone in favour of the Democrats, Dr Halapua would have been put forward as a candidate for Prime Minister.

Halapua did not vote

Relations between Pohiva and Halapua have strained since October this year when Dr Halapua abstained from voting  for a bill that would have let the Prime Minister be popularly elected.

The bill was laid before the Tongan Parliament by Democrat  MP Dr ‘Aisake Eke.

It had received massive support from many of the 17 popular electorates, nine of which elected Democrat members of parliament. However, the motion was lost 15-6.

Dr Halapua’s abstention drew strong criticisms from the local media and the Democrats.

Kele’a lashed out at Halapua’s behaviour, with the editor saying he no longer trusted him as one of the front benchers of the party.

In 2010 Democrat parliamentarians signed a memorandum of understanding that they would support the agreed position of the party caucus.

Coalition government

The root of the party’s rift can be traced to 2010 when Dr Halapua launched a campaign in support of what he called Pule’anga Kafataha or ‘Coalition Government.’

The Tongan parliament has three kinds of seats representing the nobility, the government and commoners, something like the Estates General in pre-revolutionary France.

Under the proposal all parliamentarians would work together as a coalition.

Under Dr Halapua’s proposal members of the ‘Coalition Government’ would have a conscience vote and could vote against their caucus.

Dr Halapua maintained his Coalition Government idea would work well when electing the Prime Minister.

Pohiva: it needed close public scrutiny

In 2010 Halapua told Kaniva News that Democratic Party parliamentarians voting as members of a coalition could elect a noble rather than his party leader, ‘Akilisi Pohiva, but still keep their allegiance to Pohiva and the Democratic Party.

However, the democratic Party rejected the Coalition Party proposal in 2010, the year Hon Lord Tu’ivakano  was elected Prime Minister.

Three years later the argument over the proposal has not gone away.

Pohiva reiterated last week that he thought the ‘Coalition Government’ ideas needed close public scrutiny and discussion.

Meanwhile, Dr Halapua told Talaki newspaper that he stood by his idea and said it was the reason he had not voted for Dr ‘Eke’s bill .

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