By Supa Mario
Nuku’alofa (Talanoa ‘o Tonga): We have had our 2021 General Election and now, as dictated by the constitution, it is up to our elected representatives to vote for the Prime Minister. The new Prime Minister would then select his Deputy and the rest of the Cabinet Ministers.
While we patiently wait for these processes to take place, there have been public concerns raised on social media, among them decade-long discussed issue of “horse-trading”.
Many have expressed their strong distaste with regards to “horse-trading”, and understandably so. We have seen previous Administrations with Ministers who neither have the qualification or experience to be a Minister in a particular Department, let alone any Government Department of any country that has common sense. But that’s what happens after “horse-trading” where portfolios are traded for power and vice versa. We have also seen previous administrations who have made very questionable decisions to either reward “their horses” unfairly, or to save them unjustly.
So if our newly elected representatives are “horse-traded” again, it is understandable why many would find it concerning. We could be expecting more questionable decisions to be made by this next “horse-traded” administration. But it should be noted, that “horse-trading” was to be expected given the results of the election.
Our choices have consequences. That is a fundamental fact of life. When we chose to vote a majority of independents to Parliament, we consequentially voted our next Cabinet to be picked by the “horse-trading” market. Let me explain.
It should be common sense that most, if not all elected Independents, would not refuse being a Prime Minister if given the chance. Who wouldn’t want to be Prime Minister so that his constituency would selfishly benefit and keeps electing him to Parliament? While they may not say it loudly, deep down most will not refuse it.
Most, if not all elected Independents would accept the Premiership if given the chance. However, they cannot all be Prime Ministers so some would rather settle for the second best thing – the office of the Deputy Prime Minister. But then again, they cannot all be Deputies so the next power struggle would be for the portfolios.
But here’s the thing, there are 17 representatives but we can only have, at the very most, 12 Ministers. The 14 Independents cannot all be Cabinet Ministers let alone 17 of them all representatives.
Some will have to settle for being just a representative, period. Luckily, a few of them will. But most of these Independents are not 100% contented with just that. They already got that from the voters and now they want more.
With more power they are given more opportunities to help their constituencies and fulfill campaign promises. That was essentially how most of these Independents ran in the first place, campaigned and won – to divert as much resources possible to their own constituencies as expected from their voters. And having more power would be key in that regard.
So there is not a single guaranteed way forward for most of these independents but to “horse-trade” themselves into more power. If we do not want our representatives to be doing this, than we should have voted “wisely” instead as the King suggested. But that ship has long sailed and we’ve made our beds. We have no one else than ourselves to blame should all our representatives engage in “horse-trading”.
It is one of the advantages of establishing a political party and be elected as a majority. It reduces the possibility of having to “trade horses”. Looking back, that was the case in the 2017 election. That has been the first and only election since 2010 where no “horse-trading” occurred.
Now, we have no choice but to wait for the “horse-trading” exercise to conclude and it is not as simple as one might think.
The complex “Horse-Trading” exercise
We have 17 representatives who on their own, are the necessary majority to form a new Government. We have 14 of which campaigned as Independents and 3 under the PTOA party.
The 14 Independents could easily be the majority. Amongst them 14, we have the Tongatapu-10 representative and current Prime Minister, Hon Dr. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa. He obviously wants to be Prime Minister again. The most easiest and shortest path forward during this exercise is for Tu’i’onetoa to be supported by the rest of his fellow Independents.
But we also have the Tongatapu-3 representative, Hon Hu’akavameiliku (a.k.a Siaosi Sovaleni), an Independent who is more favoured by many to be the next Prime Minister instead. So that complicates things further and arguably for the best.
Prior to the election, there have been rumours that Hon Samiu Vaipulu would be a candidate also for Prime Minister if given the proper support. At this point, anything can happen.
There are different key players here. Firstly are the representatives who obviously would qualify as Ministers on certain Departments. For instance, Hon Tatafu Moeaki for Labour, Hon ‘Uhilamoelangi Fasi for Education, Hon Poasi Tei for MEIDECC, etc. Who these representatives would vote for matters.
Other players to keep in mind, are the representatives who were Ministers under the previous Tu’i’onetoa-led government but could likely be replaced. They may include Niua-17 representative Vātau Hui, Lord Tu’ilakepa, etc. The odds are against them, but they have tasted power and the temptation to hang on can be very strong. Letting go won’t be a walk in the park. They are just humans after all and will nonetheless play their cards as well.
Not forgetting, we have the most influential minority in Parliament, the 9 votes of the Noble’s representatives. Many are of the opinion that Hon Hu’akavameiliku has more chances in securing the most votes, if not all from the Noble’s representatives. If that is the case, he would only need 4 more votes from the people’s representatives.
Hon Tu’i’onetoa on the other hand could offer Lord Tu’ilakepa and Lord Nuku ministerial positions in Cabinet should they vote for him. However, it is our experience that the Noble’s representatives have always stood in unity whoever they voted for. If some of them support Sovaleni, it is very likely that all of them will.
Horse-trading is a complex exercise to be done in a very short period. It goes into determining who will stand for Prime Minister and who will actually have a chance as being one.The complexity often sheds light on the kind of individuals we have elected to Parliament. It will reveal the “power-hungry” wolves who are wearing sheep’s clothing. These are the ones that would compromise just about anything and everything in order to attain new powers, or to hang on to current ones.
Best of luck to all the horses and the traders.