Did sense of betrayal lead Tonga’s Fā’otusia to miss confidence vote?

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Hon. Vuna Fā’otusia
Tonga's Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Vuna Fā’otusia ... reported to be unwell before being absent from the no condidence vote. Image: Kalino Latu/Kaniva News

ANALYSIS: By Kalino Latu, editor of Kaniva News

Was Tonga’s Hon. Vuna Fā’otusia betrayed by his close friends from the nobility and cabinet while being the Deputy Prime Minister?

Was he set up by some of the cabinet because of his outspoken nature? He was reported in Parliament to be unwell before he was absent from yesterday’s vote of no confidence.

Did a last minute realisation that no one from the government and the nobility would cross the floor and join him and the PTOA lead him to a situation where he felt so sick this afternoon?

It would have been better if, at the beginning, Hon. Fā’otusia had asked those who, he said, promised to stand with him in an attempt to oust Tu’i’onetoa to resign together with him as proof of their intentions.

The Prime Minister survived the vote of no-confidence after the motion was rejected by 13-9.

When Hon. Fā’otusia was interviewed by Kaniva News in the wake of the vote, he claimed there were members in cabinet who supported them and would vote for them.

He said these cabinet ministers did not agree with what Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa and disgraced former cabinet Minister ‘Etuate Lavulavu had been doing for Tonga.

‘King is not happy’
“I also know that once the members of the nobles in Parliament know that the king is not happy with the government of PM Tu’i’onetoa and Lavulavu, they will vote for us!” he declared.

“I believe that once the vote of no confidence is cast, only Hon. Tu’i’onetoa and Akosita Lavulavu, will be on the other side.”

The comment from Fā’otusia was not new to Kaniva News. We have heard the same optimistic claims before votes of no confidence in the past, but no government has been defeated by a vote of no confidence since legislation to allow them was introduced as part of the 2010 political reforms.

Kaniva News has a role to bring awareness and boost independent and healthy debates in any significant issues including politics.

So following Fā’otusia’s comment we wrote an analysis article under the heading: “Does appointment of Lord Ma‘afu mean PM has lost trust in his independent Cabinet Ministers?”

In that analysis we said that the PTOA needed to do some very clever horse trading if they wanted to win back some of the independents. One suggested outcome was that the PTOA and Hon. Fā’otusia would have to trade the premiership and deputy position to Hon. Tu’i’onetoa’s independents.

If they did that there would have been a high possibility of getting two independents on side.

Tried his best
Hon. Tu’i’onetoa would also have tried his best to offer his independents the best deal.

However, it appears that Hon. Tu’ionetoa could not step down and allow one of his independents to become Prime Minister, which would have benefitted the PTOA (“Democracy Party”).

We also said that noble MPs would not cross the floor to side with PTOA.

And we were right. Last week, we ran another article under the heading: “Horse trading continues as vote of no confidence looms; PM appears confident he will survive.”

In that article we said the PTOA was focusing on only three independent cabinet members in particular to join their attempt to oust the Prime Minister. We wrote that after interviewing reliable sources who were very close to the PTOA and nobility. They said the nobles would not support Fā’otusia and the PTOA.

It was clear the PTOA would find it hard to get the numbers.

Some of the reasons why it was hard for any nobles to cross the floor was because of the PTOA ‘s democratic principles of reforming the political system of Tonga to allow the taxpayers to rule and make decisions about their taxes.

The king and the nobles do not like democracy because it diminishes their powers and traditional entitlements.

Slap in the face
There was no way the noble MPs would side with the democrats because it would be a slap in the face for the king, who has the power to appoint his nobles.

Cabinet members have been tied to Hon. Tu’i’onetoa by a legal agreement and manifesto. They felt secure and safe politically in his hands.

Their constituencies benefitted greatly from Tu’i’onetoa’s policy of working with close friends and allies.

On the other hands, the PTOA party has been accused of being disorganised and not legally registered as a legal entity. This will always allow its senior members to control the party and sack MPs who did not agree with them. This has led to disarray in the past.

In the end it was difficult to convince the independents in the Tu’i’onetoa government, who live in the lap of luxury, to join a party which could not guarantee to provide the same benefits.

Kalino Latu is editor of Kaniva News. Asia Pacific Report republishes articles from Kaniva News with permission

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