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Tonga to hold general elections


Tonga to hold general elections

Photo: Freedom House

Voters in Tonga will go to the polls to elect 17 members of the country’s Legislative Assembly today.

Tonga’s legislature is divided between 17 elected members, 9 members appointed by the nobility, and up to 4 appointed by the Prime Minister. This election will be the first since the death of ‘Akilisi Pohiva, the first non-noble to be elected as PM. Pohiva’s pro-democracy PTOA party won 80% of the seats in the last election.

Following his death, the PTOA splintered and the pro-China PAK party—which holds only 5 of the 17 elected seats—joined with the Tongan nobility to appoint current PM Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa. The PAK’s pro-China ideology is informed by China’s hold over Tonga—the country is deep in debt from taking Chinese predatory loans that it has no capacity to repay.

Aside from a faction of PTOA candidates who seek to continue Pohiva’s political reforms, the election has not been fought on policy, thanks to the existence of constituency development funds. This will likely lead to the election of a fractured legislature dominated by clientelism, in which the unified interests of the PAK-noble bloc will predominate. Consequently, expect Tu’i’onetoa to retain his position.

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