Shall we say that, at this point in time, the call for political reform in Tonga has reached an extremely low point? There was a time in which the only voice that propagated political reform was the Temo (Tonga Pro-Democracy and Human Rights) movement. But what of the revelation of divisions amongst its ranks (I refer here to the media coverage of unstable relations between ‘Isi Pulu and some of the party members)? Moreover, with the two ministers from the people’s reps swearing their loyalty to the King, can we still trust them to be the people…s representatives in the PM’s ministerial cabinet? Not only that, but what of the establishment of the new People…s Democratic Party? Doesn’t that highlight the confusion amongst the political reformers in their perception of the term “democracy”? One might say that the emergence of this new political party in itself pinpoints dissatisfaction with the version of “democracy” preached by the Temo movement. If then there exists two concepts of “democracy” amongst the political reformers, which one shall we devote ourselves to?
Doesn’t the failure of the Temo movement to deliver what it promises confirm the sneaking suspicion that “pro-democracy” as it is being propagated in the current political situation (by both pro-democratic parties) is at best a money making scheme? That all its rhetoric of political change and so forth are persuasive strategies which serve as “opiate of the masses”? If these suspicions can be substantiated (and I obviously need help on this area), then, doesn…t that means that both sides of the political debate in the contemporary situation are suffering from the same spiritual sickness, namely, greed? Perhaps the only difference between the Crown Prince and his associates and those of the pro-democratic parties is that the former…s intention is so obvious that everyone can see the folly of his ways. But they both (i.e. the Crown Prince and the Pro-democracies) have the same ultimate goal in life, namely, stuffing their hip pockets (with whatever they can get out of the people). Yet they are going about it through the different means at their disposal just as their respective political status allows.
When we are personally devoted to a system of belief (for good or for ill) we can be blind spotted about its own weaknesses. What is required is a “thick description” of our well cherished belief systems; i.e. the kind of description that shines the intellectual spotlight on both the strengths and weaknesses of our most cherished convictions. In the current debate on the political situation in Tonga, there seems to be a lopsided emphasis on the weaknesses of the government (and I am all for that!). But what of our cherished (misguided?) confidence in the pro-democracy movements and their promises? In our uncritical devotion to political reform, we appear to give the impression that “democracy” is some kind of celestial-manufactured system of government that will solve all our current problems and give our children and their children a better future. However, any realistic observation of the current pattern(s) of development of the pro-democracy movement(s) in Tonga, at least, is sufficient to render nonsensical any utopian hope in democracy that we may have cherished.
Perhaps the best approximation of the current political climate in Tonga is that we have at our disposal a choice between two extremely problematic systems of government. To be sure, the political systems are not problematic in and of themselves. It is that we will always have people with hidden personal (and one might say “corrupt”) agenda in charge of those political systems. Therefore, we must bear in mind that all that a different political system (be it democracy or otherwise) entails is a different set of problems for us, for our children and their children, to deal with.
Rev. Dr. Ma’afu’atu’itonga Palu