Education minister Sovaleni elected as Tonga’s new prime minister

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New Tongan PM Siaosi Sovaleni
New Tongan PM Siaosi Sovaleni ... emotional speech of thanks to supporters. Image: Koro Vaka’uta/RNZ

Kaniva News

Tonga’s Parliament has elected a new prime minister to replace Dr Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa.

Siaosi Sovaleni, 51, the current Minister of Education, has won convincingly with 16 votes, against former Minister of Finance and MP Dr ‘Aisake Eke, who got 10 votes.

The Interim Speaker, Lord Tangi, announced the results this afternoon after he first informed King Tupou VI about the winner.

The results showed what appeared to be the nobility MPs’ votes being split with apparently four of them supporting Sovaleni while the remaining five voted for Dr Eke.

Sovaleni, who was a minister in good standing in the Tu’i’onetoa government, recently crossed the floor to form his new bloc and gain the support from a united group of independent MPs and PTOA Party MPs.

Three other MPs who were part of Tu’i’onetoa’s PAK party, also crossed the floor and joined Sovaleni.

The only People’s MP and interim cabinet minister who supported Dr Tu’i’onetoa was the Niua MP Vātau Hui.

The defection of the four members meant Dr Tu’i’onetoa was forced to withdraw his candidacy for the premiership election because he did not have the number of MPs required by law to support and nominate him as a candidate.

As Kaniva News reported this week, Dr Tu’i’onetoa complained about being dumped by his own interim cabinet ministers, saying he just found out after the general elections on November 18 that his unity with his interim ministers in the past four months had been “fake”.

Education, health and climate among priorities
In his speech before the election today, Sovaleni said people, the chiefs and the king lived under what he described as one house. He said people had to learn to know how to live together.

He said education, health, economic developments, e-government, climate change, war on illicit drugs, natural disasters, youths and women initiatives and good governance were some of his priorities.

In his vote of thanks after he was declared the winner this afternoon, Sovaleni was emotional and congratulated his supporters and all MPs.

He also thanked his unsuccessful rival candidate Dr Eke and said they had previously worked together in the Ministry of Finance.

Republished with permission as part of a collaboration between Kaniva News and Asia Pacific Report.

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