Many Tongans like me see Akilisi Pohiva as a dangerous man. “He’s a fiery populist,” they say. “He’ll destroy the country,” they argue. “He’s a fascist and a dictator in the making,” they insist. But the efforts to portray the pro-Democracy leader as the Tongan version of Cuba…s Fidel Castro totally miss the point. Akilisi Pohiva and the pro-democracy group is a symptom of deep problems that Tonga must continue to address. As the new king had promised a new chapter for the kingdom is forthcoming, we must all be vigilance in our posts to make sure change come as promised. It is unfortunate the pro-democracy group did not have patience. Their action that destroyed Nuku…alofa is a huge distraction from the real problem we all have been struggling to resolve, a democratic change. A change that is not identical to how other democratic countries evolved, but something that is uniquely Tongan, something that works but still maintains the Tongan flavor. Those who were responsible for this destruction must have their day in court. Hang them high or hang them low, cane them, imprisoned, exiled or let them go. But make it clear, no one is above the law. The pro-democracy leaders who incite the destructions should be held accountable as well. But, inciting hatred toward a man and the group who is perceived as close to the oppressed won’t eliminate their legitimate grievances and the concerns that got us all into this mess.
And that’s the real danger for the kingdom; that in our efforts to disavow the pro-democracy group as bunch of power hungry looney toones, the kingdom…s ruling elites continue to disregard the conditions that produced them.
Akilisi Pohiva…s popularity is a symptom of the Monarchy…s failure to reign-in the commonly perceived out-of-control corruption of its own over the last 20 plus years. Age took its toll on T4 thus leaving the reign to then Crown Prince, now T5. With this proxy ruling, myriads of events went on with little veto power from the real king. Creation of Shoreline from Tonga Electric Power Board with little investment of its own is an example.
The result: the …Haves…, have more, and the …Have Nots… are still waiting for their chance. I only hope the …Have Nots… turn will come before Hell freezes over. Social engineers chimed in by pointing out the poverty level in the kingdom being so bad which is as genuine as Osama Bin laden being called the Pope of the Catholic Church. There are times I wish, social engineers stay out of things that will make them look silly in my eyes. But, that is a different subject for another day…s discussion.
It’s no wonder that Akilisi Pohiva receives the support he does. He is persistence as a politician created by a political system we have asked in one form or another to change. He is now a household name and may not win again, because of his involvement in the destruction of Nuku…alofa or his time at Hu…atolitoli is yet to be served. But, to many of his followers, he is everything our political system and elites failed to do: create a fair and real opportunities for ordinary people by reforming the kingdom…s crony and favoritism system that is prevalence through out our political and economic spectrums. The elites failed us because of greedy and self-serving attitudes, and the privileges for the few at the expense of the rest explain why Akilisi Pohiva…s message resonates. It’s as if he held up a mirror and confronted the kingdom with an image that reflected the inequalities the elites had long refused to acknowledge.
And that divide is what the kingdom’s elites should fear the most. Instead of hating Akilisi and the pro-democracy group, they should hate the conditions that created them. There are too many Tongans for whom the status quo doesn’t work. There are too many people who seek the deep transformation of a beloved kingdom that historically has excluded them, or forced them to cross the ocean to the four corners of the world in search of the social mobility they can’t aspire to at home. The best antidote against the rise of Akilisi Pohiva and the pro-democracy group would have been a political and an economic model that empowered everyone, and level the playing field without favoring the elites. If the …best of the best is chosen… as the discriminator when decisions are made, the practice of exceptions given to the elites and friends must be ceased as well.
None of this is to suggest that Akilisi Pohiva would necessarily or can deliver anything. So far, he has broken the last nerve of my patience with what he did on that dreadful November day. He may have correctly diagnosed the kingdom…s illness, but judging from his leadership skills, he has led the destruction of Nuku…alofa and seven hundred of his followers to prison. If you ask my opinion as the bona fide Village Idiot, I will vote him in for the national title, he earned it. I do not think he has a clue how to solve those issues. Much of what he had said was all in opposition to the Ruling regime in place. He has yet to show how he is going to fix the problems he vehemently opposes. He talks a lot about freedom, accountability and transparency, but has yet to say how he would bring them about. His rhetoric has been confrontational and consistently threatened to use violence as he did last November.
Despite that dreadful day last November, the kingdom cannot be too busy to understand that continuing to limp along with minimalist reforms and leave the basic structure of absolute power and inequality intact is a recipe for disaster. Collectively, we must not disregard the cultural wealth within our boundaries in our efforts to change how we are governed. Because the real danger for the Kingdom of Tonga isn’t Akilisi Pohiva and the pro-democracy group; it’s the resistance of the elites to share the kingdom or govern it better.
Then again, we can all start learning to say, …Bula Vinaca!…, for they sure have a mess in their hands that we do not want, and we should learn from it.
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