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Forget about the "People's Ministers" concept. The People have been fooled again

Nuku'alofa, Tonga


by Pesi Fonua

As the latest Tongan Government political reform initiative begins to unfold, following the appointment of Cabinet ministers from elected members of Parliament on March 21, we are witnessing a number of interesting political happenings.

The resignation by Dr Feleti Sevele and Sione Peauafi Haukinima from their People's Representative seats so that they can be sworn in as Cabinet Ministers, clearing the way for a possible by-election in May, has legally aligned them with government.

In their new ministerial posts they definitely will not be playing the role of messengers of the people, as Temo candidates told voters during their campaign. Their resignation as People's Representatives terminates their accountability to the people, and now they are accountable only to the King and the Prime Minister.

So, realistically, we should forget about the “People's Ministers” concept. The People have been fooled again.

In another twist to this clever political move by government, it has also split the Tonga Human Rights and Democracy Movement (THRDM) camp. 'Akilisi Pohiva and company now have problems on their hands. They must convince voters that the Temo's elected members who have resigned to become Cabinet Ministers have not deserted them and are still Temos. At the same the Temo's position as an opposition to government has been weakened – they have lost their fighting edge with their acceptance of the government proposal for a piece-meal political reform program.

In sharp contrast, a new group with a hardline, has emerged under the leadership of Clive Edwards and Futa Helu.

Futa, the vice president of the THRDM, came out strongly in support of Clive during the last few days of the election and in full support of Clive'’s stance of going for nothing less than a full 30-elected members of parliament. This parliament in turn could elect a Prime Minister, and the PM elect his Cabinet Ministers.

The Clive-Futa camp will take the battle ground to the court house, where the first contest will be to try and take away power generation from Shoreline, and return it to the Tonga Electric Power Board.

This battleground may be extended to the House if Clive Edwards is elected in the coming by-elections to replace the People's Representatives who have become ministers.