38,474 Tongan citizens—fully 90% of the those registered-- came out to vote last Thursday. And while the big winner was the Friendly Islands Democratic Party (FIDP), which won 12 of the 17 popularly elected seats for the next Parliament, it fell two seats short of capturing a majority of the 26 total number of seats.
Nine nobles were elected by their peers, and together with the five “independent” people's representatives the majority of the new Parliament will not be affiliated with any one party.
No women were elected (eleven were candidates) despite “women's issues” being one of the bigger issues in the campaign. Women are prohibited from owning land, and domestic violence has recently become a front burner issue in Tonga. Women are also prohibited from inheriting noble titles, making the nobles' election an exclusively male business.
The Friendly Islands Democratic Party is led by 'Akilisi Pohiva, long-time leader of the pro-democracy movement in Tonga and currently the longest serving member of Parliament. But nine of the 12 elected from his group are new to Parliament, and three have no experience at all in in civil service. And only two won more than 50% of the vote in their electorate, as most districts had multiple candidates. On the other hand, the five independent people's representatives are experienced in government; several have headed ministries in the recent past.
The first order of business for the new Parliament is to elect a Prime Minister. While the King and several nobles are advocating for a commoner to be elected, this sentiment is not shared by all. While Pohiva has openly lobbied for the post, the prevailing sentiment is that none of the nobles would vote for him. So with all of the ministry heads also to be appointed, most of whom will be members of Parliament, there is plenty of room for negotiation. It appears the five independent people's representatives will determine whether the nobles block or the FIDP block will prevail.
During the campaign most of the successful candidates focused on the need for the new government to conduct the country's business with honesty and integrity, as it is widely perceived that the current government is corrupt and inefficient. An opinion poll focused on issues reported that only 41% believe the country is “headed in the right direction,” and the most important issue by far was “growing the economy.”
In the weeks just before the election there were reports of vote buying and candidate defamation; a police officer was investigated for actively campaigning for a candidate; and two candidates' names were struck from the ballot because of court orders to pay debts. One candidate campaigned to legalize marijuana, and another advocated that Tonga declare itself to be a “welfare state” (neither won).
The earliest anyone expects a Prime Minister to be elected is Christmas, and it is more likely to be in early January. In the meantime the most interesting politicing is now taking place behind closed doors. It will be most interesting to see what results.