EDITORIAL: Tongans have been left in the dark and the country is in danger of stumbling back into the dark ages

EDITORIAL: Tongans have been left in the dark over the reported resignation of Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku as Defence Minister and Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu as Foreign affairs Minister.

King Tupou VI Photo/File photo

Neither the palace nor the government will confirm or deny the reports, Both the palace and the parliament are letting the people down.

Senior government sources told Kaniva News earlier this week that they believed the reports were true.

Since 2010, when Tonga adopted its frail constitution, the kingdom has been a democracy, but one that has been constantly under threat as forces in the palace seeks to reassert their dominance over the country.

His Majesty King George V agreed to relinquish his executive to a government elected by the people.

Clause 51 (7) of the Constitution bars the king from making any interference in the daily operations of Cabinet, including nominating the Ministers for the king to appoint.

The Tongan people can be forgiven for thinking that King Tupou VI has done just that.

The Prime Minister and Hon. ‘Utoikamanu appear to have resigned after coming under intense pressure from the unelected Nobles’ MPS, some of whom seem to see themselves as the guardians of the King’s privileges.

Regrettably, but perhaps understandably, the Prime Minister seems to have buckled under that pressure.

As reported earlier, the Nobles sent the PM a letter saying: “We are the king’s cultural preservers (‘aofivala). Therefore, we propose that you and your government respect the king’s desire.”

This kind of bullying should be intolerable in a democracy.

Equally dangerous and, frankly, absurd is MP Piveni Piukala’s proposal to have the King hand- pick the Noble’s representatives for Parliament.

As we have argued before and argue again, this kind of behaviour smacks of the law of the jungle, not respect for the Constitution of a democratic nation.

The resignation of the Prime Minister and the Minister Foreign Affairs is a step backward for Tonga toward the dark ages. It will ruin Tonga’s fragile democracy. Hon. Hu’akavameiliku’s  apparent submission to pressure from the Nobles means his name will never be included in the list of those who have stood up to defend Tonga’s democracy and constitution.  The Attorney General  was right in saying it was unconstitutional for the King to interfere with the Prime Minister’s power to nominate Ministers under Clause 5 of the Constitution.

The King and the PM must immediately clear the air and make it clear what has happened. The implications for democracy and for the kingdom are frightening and have led to serious concern about how this might play out.

Veteran Tongan journalist Kalafi Moala says the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs resigned before they flew to Niuafo’ou recently  to meet the king. Moala claims that the Prime Minister has nominated the king’s son, Crown Prince Tupouto’a, to become the Minister of Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Moala claimed this alleged nomination and the resignation of the PM from Defence and ‘Utoikamanu from Foreign Affairs had been agreed between the king and the Prime Minister before the king accepted a request from the Prime Minister for the audience at Niuafo’ou.

For the King to act outside the Constitution and then to nominate his son, if true, would be a serious threat towards our Constitution. Moala has also claimed that the king’s daughter could also be nominated for a Cabinet position. Should any of this come to pass it would truly be a step back into the dark ages when Tonga was an absolute monarchy in which the ordinary people had  no say.

One of the thing which gave impetus to the push for change in Tonga, led by the Defender of Democracy ‘Akilisi Pohiva, was the litany of corruption and abuses of power involving the monarchy  in the years before 2010. This included the illegal passport sales, during  which US$50 million proceeds were lost and in which King Tupou IV was implicated, and the collapse of Royal Tongan airlines.

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