Matangi Tonga

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Feb. 10) – The proposal by the Tongan government to appoint four cabinet ministers from the 18 elected members of the House this year has given a new dimension to Tonga’s 2005 parliamentary election.

Now, in effect, an elected member of the "opposition" may cross the floor to become a member of the cabinet.

So what this means is that a ministerial hopeful must first be a proven critic of government in order to be elected, and then once elected must show another face to become a committed supporter of the status quo in a ministerial role.

The move has given an air of seriousness to the election. Voters have a new sense of responsibility, because this time they will be voting for someone who could become a cabinet minister and actually participate in the running of the country’s affairs.

This is a definite shift in the meaning of Tongans' right to vote.

In the past it was a matter of electing People's Representatives to go into the House and play the role of an opposition, by criticizing and picking faults in government’s decisions and policies. Now voters have the task of electing members of parliament who should be equally capable of becoming either an effective opposition or a committed member of the establishment.

It is an election with an impending twist of irony, because people who vote thinking that they are electing an opposition member of parliament may get the shock of their lives when their star opposition member is appointed as a Minister and instantly crosses the floor to the other side.

Voters are still trying to get their thinking around who is capable of such a performance. Candidates on the other hand, will have to change their campaigning style and convince voters that they are equally capable of being either an opposition member or a loyal member of the government.

One thing that is immediately obvious to voters is that out of the 64 candidates they have to choose from on March 17, very few appear to be capable of the duality of commitment that the 2005 election requires of them.

February 11, 2005

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