Call for electoral reform in Tonga after women candidates lose out at the ballot box


Samoa’s Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa is seen as a shining light when it comes to Pacific women in politics but across the region, female candidates are struggling to get into parliament.

A leading Tongan women’s rights activist is calling for electoral reforms after 12 women candidates failed to win a seat in last week’s national election.

Ofa-ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki said the election results are a reminder of the work still required to get women into office.

“Talking about special measures or affirmative action is not something taken onboard by our key decision leaders but I think its time now,” she told Pacific Beat.

A total of 73 candidates contested the 17 seats, which are set aside for the People’s Representatives, with 11 percent of votes going to female candidates.

Tonga’s only female incumbent MP Losaline Ma’asi also failed to win back her Tongatapu 5 constituency.

Guttenbeil-Likiliki believes it is time for women to sit down at the table with leaders and see what systems could work for Tonga.

“It’s the same old argument of women can’t get in based on her merit alone…its obvious women are meant to be leaders in Tonga,” she said.

Pacific election expert, Dr Kerryn Baker, from the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University, said education is one area that could help change people’s attitudes about women in leadership.

“The fundamental issue is how political leadership is seen and it’s seen as a very masculine thing…it’s about changing those norms. It takes a very long time,” she said.