Tongan politician, democracy reformer and scholar Dr Sitiveni Halapua dies

Dr Sitiveni Halapua
Dr Sitiveni Halapua . . . he developed a conflict-resolution system based on the Polynesian practice of Talanoa. Image: Kālino Latu/Kaniva Tonga

By Kālino Lātū, editor of Kaniva News

Dr Sitiveni Halapua, former deputy leader of Tonga’s Democratic Movement, has died aged 74.

Born on February 13, 1949, he was a respected academic, a pioneer of Tonga’s democratic reforms and pioneer of a conflict resolution system based on traditional practices.

Halapua earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Kent in the UK and went on to lecture in economics at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

He was director of the Pacific Islands Development Programme at the East-West Centre at the University of Hawai’i for more than 20 years.

It was while working at the East-West Centre that he developed a conflict-resolution system based on the Polynesian practice of Talanoa, known as the “Talanoa conflict-resolution” system.

It has been used in the Cook Islands, Fiji and Tonga.

In November 2005, Dr Halapua was appointed to the National Committee for Political Reform, aimed at producing a plan for the democratic reform of Tonga.

Blame over report
In October 2006 the commission recommended a fully elected Parliament. He later accused Prime Minister Feleti Sevele’s of hijacking the report and blamed this for the 2006 Nuku’alofa riots, which destroyed much of central Nuku’alofa.

Dr Halapua was elected to Parliament as a People’s Representative for Tongatapu 3 in the 2010 elections.

Four years later, he was ousted as candidate for the Democratic Party after party leader and Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s newspaper, Kele’a, accused him of being at the centre of a plot to seek the premiership.

As Kaniva News reported at the time, Kele’a claimed that three Democratic Party members, including People’s Representatives Semisi Tapueluelu and Sione Taione planned in 2012 to replace Pohiva with fellow parliamentarian Dr Sitiveni Halapua.

Kele’a alleged that the plan was made in 2012 when the Democratic government lodged a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano.

Both Taione and Halapua denied the story.

Relations between Pohiva and Halapua had been strained since October 2013 when Dr Halapua abstained from voting for a bill that would have let the Prime Minister be popularly elected.

Popular bill lost
The bill was laid before the Tongan Parliament by Democrat MP Dr ‘Aisake Eke and had received massive support from many of the 17 popular electorates, nine of which elected Democrat Members of Parliament. However, the motion was lost 15-6.

Dr Halapua’s abstention drew strong criticisms from the local media and the Democrats.

Kele’a lashed out at Dr Halapua’s behaviour, with the editor saying he no longer trusted him as one of the front benchers of the party.

Dr Halapua had long been an advocate of what he called Pule’anga Kafataha or “Coalition Government”.

Under the proposal all parliamentarians, whether nobles or commoners, would work together as a coalition.

In 2010 Halapua told Kaniva News that Democratic Party Parliamentarians voting as members of a coalition could elect a noble rather than his party leader, ‘Akilisi Pohiva, but still keep their allegiance to Pohiva and the Democratic Party.

After he was removed as a Democrat candidate, Dr Halapua said he would stand as an independent at the next election, but did not run. He stood unsuccessfully in the 2017 election.

Republished from Kaniva Tonga with permission from the authors.

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