Tonga prime ministerial race now down to two

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A dramatic new development in the race for the prime ministership in Tonga.

The incumbent, Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, has pulled out and there are now two contenders.

The caretaker education minister, Siaosi Sovaleni, is facing ‘Aisake Eke, who won re-election last month after losing in his seat in the 2017 poll.

RNZ Pacific’s correspondent, Kalafi Moala, said it appears that Tu’i’onetoa is backing Eke – hoping he will continue to follow the policies of the previous government.

Nominations for Tonga’s prime minister close next Tuesday.

Moala said it is becoming increasingly clear the nobles will have the final say on who will be prime minister.

He said the vote split among the 17 People’s Representatives is ten for Sovaleni and seven for Eke.

Moala said this is why a group of three nobles is now talking with the two groups of People’s Representatives.

“Which clearly indicates that they are going to get involved. Because some of them are going to have to make a choice to see the majority group come into power.

So in this election it is definitely for sure that the People’s Representatives cannot settle things on their own, therefore the nobles will have to be the power breaker.”

Moala said it is possible the nine nobles could abstain from the prime ministerial vote but it is very unlikely.

Tu’i’onetoa became prime minister following the death of ‘Akilisi Pohiva two years ago.

His time at the top has been mixed culminating in trenchant criticism of the performance of MPs by King Tupou VI this year.

The King called on voters to select wisely going into the November poll, which produced a record number of new MPs.

Dr Eke, a former secretary of finance in Tonga, had been finance minister in Pohiva’s first term, but the two fell out and he was removed from the cabinet.

SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS