Matangi Tonga

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Dec. 3) – What is going to happen in Tonga on December 5, 2005?

The date has been earmarked by constitutional reformers as a deadline for government to make a response to their demands for people to have the right to elect all members of parliament.

So while December 5 has been hyped locally and in overseas media as the Big Day for the reform movement, we are left wondering is there going to be a confrontation between the government and the reformers who plan to gather at Pangai Si'i?

Meanwhile, the public is still trying to understand what the reformers have to offer.

What has happened to Laki Niu's petition to Cabinet and to Parliament?

What has happened to Lopeti Senituli's model of democratic government?

What has happened to Clive Edwards' proposed model of government?

Are Laki, Lopeti, Clive and 'Akilisi Pohiva working together for an independent National Committee for Political Reform, in opposition to Prince Tu'ipelehake's parliamentary National Committee for Political Reform?

What has happened to Prince Tu'ipelehake's National Committee for Political Reform after parliament gave it the go ahead to form?

Are public servants still supportive of the push by politicians for political reform or are they now comfortable with the status quo, since they have got their 60, 70, and 80 percent pay rise?

These are just some of the questions that Tongans are asking, and although some answers have been given; but the ad hoc actions taken by leading figures in the reformist movement leave people frustrated and confused.

For example, it has been reported that on November 17, the supporters of Laki Niu, who had been gathering at Pangai Si'i daily for the past month, presented a petition to the king with a copy of the proposed amendments that they wanted to make to the Tongan Constitution, making it possible for the people to elect all members of parliament. This group spelled out in a letter, which accompanied their petition, that they expect a response from the king by December 5, and if they do not hear from the king by that date they will take action. But they were not specific on what they will do.

Two days later on November 19 there was a convention at the International Dateline Hotel hosted by the independent National Committee for Political Reform, chaired by [Member of Parliament] 'Akilisi Pohiva. The convention was officially opened by Prince Tu'ipelehake, the chairman of the parliamentary National Committee for Political Reform, leaving people wondering if both committees are working together.

The convention was to pass amendments to the Constitution that were proposed by [Member of Parliament] Clive Edwards, which formed the basis of a reform document that the independent National Committee for Political Reform, chaired by 'Akilisi Pohiva, will present to the king on December 6.

The constitutional amendment and the proposal for political reform that is to be presented to the king on December 6 absorbs Lopeti Senituli's proposed model of government, but fundamentally it is based on Clive Edwards's model.

Clive said that there was not going to be any protest march on December 5, but supporters of the national committee chaired by 'Akilisi will be at Pangai Si'i to hear speeches.

Also happening to be at Pangai Si'i on December 5 are Laki Niu's supporters still waiting to hear a response from the king to their petition of November 17.

As Laki's and 'Akilisi's supporters will gather at Pangai Si'i to hear speeches and possibly eat barbecue - after all it is a public holiday commemorating Tupou I's birthday - the other reform faction, the parliament's National Committee for Political Reform, chaired by Prince Tu'ipelehake, has disconnected itself from the Pangai Si'i movements.

Yesterday, December 2, the parliamentary National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga on Political Reform met and appeared for the first time to have a full committee, at least on paper. The committee members are HRH Prince Tu'ipelehake, chairman, 'Akilisi Pohiva Deputy Chairman (not present), Hon. Tu'a Taumoepeau Tupou (not present), Clive Edwards, Dr Langi Kavaliku (not present), Dr 'Ana Taufe'ulungaki (not present), Dr Sitiveni Halapua, and 'Aisea Taumoepeau (not present).

Now, comes the really confusing part with Tu'ipelehake's committee. 'Akilisi, the deputy chairman, has said that he has been asked to resign because he publicly withdrew his support from the committee because it has the blessing of the king and the crown prince, and therefore he could not work with such a committee.

Meanwhile, Clive Edwards was also was going to be only a temporary member of Tu'ipelehake's committee, and one wonders how long he is going to remain a member.

The reformers will not be marching on Monday December 5 but instead church people will be marching for Jesus. This march has been endorsed by the President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, Dr 'Alifeleti Mone, the Royal Chaplain, and the King, and it is expected to draw a big crowd.

Following the march for Jesus, many people from Ha'apai who are in Nuku'alofa for the Ha'apai Trade Fair will be performing traditional dancing to mark the birthday of Tupou I - the father of the Tongan Constitution, who was a Ha'apai man.

So if you were planning to be in Nuku'alofa on December 5 to see some action, you will not be disappointed. You can be guaranteed some Hallelujah, a delightful display of Tongan dancing, and at Pangai Si'i, definitely some political rhetoric - and if you are lucky, a bit of barbecue.

December 5, 2005

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