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ANALYSIS: Fiji-Tonga Relations Will Strengthen Under Pohiva

Relations between Fiji and Tonga are expected to become stronger after the election of ‘Akilisi Pohiva as Tongan Prime Minister. The Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara (commonly known as Rokoului) issue
06 Jan 2015 10:41
ANALYSIS: Fiji-Tonga Relations Will Strengthen Under Pohiva

Relations between Fiji and Tonga are expected to become stronger after the election of ‘Akilisi Pohiva as Tongan Prime Minister.

The Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara (commonly known as Rokoului) issue has not disappeared completely but it will not stand in the way of the two island nations expanding their diplomatic co-operation.

Mr Pohiva, a founding member of the Tongan Pro-Democracy Movement, is the first commoner to be elected PM.

Last year, he said he respected Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama for having the political will to make things happen.

Mr Pohiva told the Tonga Daily News: “ I admire him for that. He has been able to make things happen and take development to the people, which had not happened for years. He had the will to make things happen, to make reality of things that were planned over the years.”

He said every government needed to have the political will to implement positive changes. The lack of political will was a continuing problem in Tonga.

Mr Pohiva said then: “It is something that we, as a party, are looking at because we also want to form the next government.

“We must have the political will to make changes. This government does not have that. I know some of my own party members also do not have that.

“It’s an issue that we will continue to face but we must start doing things right.

“We must have the checks and balance system; we must have transparency.

My government will make the necessary changes, as recommended by so many international teams that have done country analysis on Tonga.”

Now that he is in the hot seat, Mr Pohiva is being watched with interest from Fiji which welcomed his election and policies.

He and Mr Bainimarama have one thing in common. Mr Pohiva has had to battle the kingdom’s hereditary nobility to get to where he is today.

Mr Bainimarama had to overcome the resistance against change from certain quarters of the traditional iTaukei chiefly system.

He had to work extremely hard to change people’s mindset through his development programmes.

For more than 30 years, Mr Pohiva had tried to water down the power of the monarchy and the nobility.

For his efforts, he was jailed in 1996 for contempt of Parliament.

In the first elections under the new constitution in 2010, the nobles managed to convince five independents to vote against Mr Pohiva and prevented him from becoming PM.

This time, the nobles failed to stop him winning a secret ballot by 15 votes to 11.

Interestingly, it’s the nobility, more specifically the royal family, that has looked after and protected Rokoului since he escaped to Tonga, with the help of the Tongan Navy, from treason charges in Fiji.

Some members of the chiefly clan on Bau and the Tui Nayau have traditional links with the royal family through blood ties.

The Government is buoyed by Mr Pohiva’s commitment to uphold democratic processes and the principles of accountability and transparency.

But it is also mindful that Mr Pohiva’s battle against nobility is far from over. He will need their co-operation to fix the ailing economy.

Mr Pohiva can count on Fiji for support. Despite the row over Rokoului, Fiji has gone to bat for Tonga on a number of regional issues including climate change and developments.

Tonga has taken heart from Fiji’s unwavering support for small island states and for standing up to New Zealand and Australia.

When New Zealand withdrew its tourism aid to Tonga in protest against the use of a Chinese plane, Tonga stood its ground. The row started when the Tongan government accepted the MA-60 as a gift from China in 2012. NZ said the plane was unsafe.

Political reforms in Fiji have been a source of inspiration for Mr Pohiva.

At the same time, Fiji sees him as an agent for much needed change in the region.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

 

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