Commentary: King’s disregard of call for dissolution gives hopes for more democratic reforms in Tonga

'Oku taupotu 'i lalo ha fakamatala faka-Tonga

The king’s decision not to dissolve Parliament after receiving petitions led by anti government leaders was a significant move in Tonga’s struggle to see a more democratic government after the 2010 political reforms.

It has also been seen as a remarkable move forward after the king’s dissolution of Parliament in 2017 failed to oust the ‘Akilisi Pohiva government.

The rejection of the request to dissolve Parliament could be seen as a precautionary measure for those who have animosity against the democratically elected government or anybody else who wanted the king to use his constitutional powers to support their political agenda.

The king could now be seen by democrats as a reasonable ruler rather than a monarch who was quick to exercise his absolute constitutional power without listening to those who had been accused, as some saw happening in 2017.    

After that dissolution analysts believed the king’s reputation and that of the country as a whole were damaged. This was because not only voters returned the government to office after the snap elections, but more MPs who supported Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva were elected and some noble MPs lost their seats.

King’s decisions

The king’s decision to refer the petitions to the Ombudsman, the Attorney General and to the Police Commissioner has strengthened the Democrats’ trust in him and their hopes for a more democratic government during his tenure.  

The king’s decision was a milestone on Tonga’s democratic reforms because the Ombudsman, Attorney General and Police commissioner’s roles which His Majesty has used to investigate the petitions were created on principles of transparency, accountability and good governance- the core ideologies of democracy.

Because he has used these tools, we have good reasons to believe that he could continue to use them in the future.  

And because he could continue to use them in the future, we have good reasons to think he will continue to accept more democratic mechanisms to help him run the country according to the constitution.

This means the king’s decision not to dissolve Parliament after receiving the petitions mean  people should hope for more democratic reforms in the near future led by this king.

His decision for the government to fund the Anti-Corruption Commission and for the Commissioner to be paid a judge’s level salary to be approved by the king was another sign of hope for the Democrats.

The constitution gave power to the king to dissolve Parliament but it did not give him power to dissolve the government.

The petitions

The petitions were organised by former government Ministers and MPs, including lawyer William Clive Edwards, Sione Teisina Fuko, ‘Isileli Pulu and Dr Viliami Uasike Latu. All are fierce political foes of ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

They demanded the king immediately dissolve Parliament after what  they described as signs of corruption, dishonesty and abuse of power. 

In a democracy, elected officials are accountable to the public they govern and they must be held accountable for any wrong doing.

Taxpayers have the right to complain, protest and petition if they were concerned at how their leaders run the government of the day.

But only the petitions that have merit, validity and which have been created in good spirit should be submitted for the king’s consideration.

There are good reasons to believe the petitions the King has ordered to be given to government bodies to investigate had a hidden political agenda of opposition to the government behind them.

One of the engineers of the petitions, William Clive Edwards was the lawyer for Princess Pilolevu and Tongasat in their fight against the government in which the court ruled Tongasat receiving of TP$90 million Chinese money was unlawful.

He was also the lawyer for former Speaker and Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano who was charged with 10 counts, including one of making a false declaration to obtain a passport, two perjury counts, five for accepting bribes and two counts of money laundering.

The Pohiva government was instrumental in pushing for an inquiry and investigation which led to the arrest of Lord Tu’ivakano.

Edwards also represented the Pacific Games Council and Lord Sevele ‘O Vailahi in court cases in which they were fighting against government.

The investigation

Everyone should be happy that the complaints have been handed over to the right authorities to investigate and if there has been any wrong doing they must hold those responsible accountable.

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