Regional Focus: Elections in Tonga

The Tonga Parliament in session. Picture: TONGA PARLIAMENT

General elections were held in Tonga at the end of last week. Of a total of 26 seats in the Parliament, 17 were elected as “People’s Representatives”.

A further nine were elected from among the country’s nobles.

Preliminary results have revealed several things. First is that none of the 12 women candidates who contested were successful. The previous Parliament had one woman MP who was not returned in these elections. There are several new faces among the new parliamentary contingent.

Overall, the Parliament looks to be younger and better educated, with a number of MPs holding PhDs. Political parties are not well established within Tonga, and this makes it hard to predict who will be the next prime minister. It is expected that the nobles will vote as a bloc, making their support a key factor in the make-up of the next government.

Kiribati court rules against Attorney-General 

The Kiribati High Court has handed down a signifi cant judgment declaring the actions of the country’s attorney-general to be unconstitutional. The case relates to Justice David Lambourne who was appointed as a judge of the court in 2018.

He has been unable to return to Kiribati for nearly two years. Justice Lambourne has lived in Kiribati for many years. His wife, Hon Tessie Lambourne, is the leader of the Opposition. While awaiting repatriation from Fiji, Justice Lambourne was subjected to several measures by the attorney-general that made a difficult situation worse.

At the heart of the A-G’s position was the contention that Justice Lambourne’s ap- pointment “for life” was null and void.

This has now been decided as unconstitutional by Chief Justice William Hastings. He has ruled that the case speaks to the centrality of judicial independence within the context of the separation of powers in a democratic country.

Australian Foreign Minister expected to visit Palau 

Senator Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister of Australia, is expected to visit Palau soon.

She is likely to make the visit en route to attend the G7 meeting of Foreign and Development Ministers in the UK.

Her visit is signifi cant as it represents an increased recognition of the importance of the Northern Pacific on the part of Canberra. An embassy was established in 2019 as part of the Morrison government’s Pacifi c Step-up.

High on the agenda when Minister Payne meets with the Palau leadership will be the future of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Further to the rift that emerged earlier this year over the appointment of Henry Puna as secretary-general, President Surangel Whipps Jr activated his country’s withdrawal from the regional grouping. Minister Payne will be hoping to persuade him to change his mind before the withdrawal takes effect in February 2022.

Adverse reaction incident in vaccination program 

In Vanuatu, health authorities have revealed that a second person has suffered a serious adverse event further to receiving a vaccination against COVID-19. The vaccine was administered in October. The patient has been treated in the main hospital in Port Vila and is reported to be in a stable condition.

This comes as Vanuatu continues to make slow but steady progress with its vaccination rollout. Almost 130,000 vaccines have been administered so far, according to the Ministry of Health. Levels of vaccine hesitancy are not as high in Vanuatu as in some other Pacifi c countries.

However, there is a persistent 7-8 per cent conversion gap as between people receiving their fi rst and second doses. This will be alleviated next month when the Johnson and Johnson – single jab – vaccine becomes available. Mixed messages from political leaders are also hampering a faster and more wholesale rollout of the vaccinations

 TESS NEWTON CAIN is the project lead for the Pacific Hub at the Griffith Asia Institute.

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