Lines of party and political allegiances in Tonga’s parliament appear to have shifted in the wake of a failed vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni.
The motion, submitted by MP ‘Aisake Eke, made 46 allegations against the prime minister accusing him of corruption, mismanagement and not fulfilling development promises.
The government’s relationship with Tonga’s only domestic airline – Lulutai Airlines – was an issue frequently raised, questioning ethics of Hu’akavameiliku’s position as chairperson of the Board of Directors for the airline.
Other issues raised were the government’s controversial appointments of former MPs who had been convicted of bribery and complaints of increasing electricity costs.
On 06 September after two days of the various points being read, a vote was held, and the motion was defeated by 14 votes to 11.
“Much of the allegations were issues of poor governance,” Taimi Tonga editor Kalafi Moala said.
“There was a lot of debate about Lulutai Airlines – a lot of the opposition believed that the airlines should be run by the private sector.
“It was discovered recently that the government was purchasing a plane to the tune of US$6.5 million – part of the money was borrowed from the retirement fund.
“There are charges of conflict of interest because the Prime Minister, who is the chairman of the Board of Lulutai Airlines, is also the chairman of the board for the retirement fund,” he said.
But surprisingly some of Hu’akavameiliku’s former allies voted against him and others who had opposed him in the past defended his leadership.
This included former prime minister Lord Tu’ivakano who voted alongside Tongatapu People’s representatives Mateni Tapuelulu and Piveni Piukala, who in the past have bitterly opposed Lord Tu’ivakano.
Lord Tu’ivakano was among three Nobles Representatives who voted in favour of the motion to oust the PM – the other two being Niua’s Noble representative Kalaniuvalu Fotofili and ‘Eua Noble’s Representative Lord Nuku.
It is rare in Tongan politics for nobles to oppose each other.
Tonga’s Parliament is comprised of 17 people’s representatives elected by general voters and nine noble’s representatives elected by 33 hereditary nobles (chiefs).
“The nobles are normally conservative and pro-establishment, and they normally stand together on any issues that come up before parliament,” said Moala.
“The fact that the nobles have split is quite a significant thing.”
The surprise divisions also crossed family lines with MP Piveni Piukala voting in support of the motion, while his elder brother, Health Minister Saia Piukala, voted against it in support of the prime minister.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS