Former Tonga PM convicted for election bribery

Former Tonga PM Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa

Two Tonga MPs, one a former prime minister and the other a serving cabinet minister, have lost their seats in Parliament.

Former PM, Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, and the minister for Internal Affairs, Sangster Saulala, have been convicted of bribing voters during the election campaign period in November last year.

Tu’i’onetoa lost his election petition on Friday and Saulala’s election to the Tongatapu No.7 people’s representative was declared void by the Chief Justice Monday.

Tongan journalist, Kalafi Moala reports that the former prime minister’s bribing was particularly blatant.

He denied he’d given $50,000 Tonga pa’anga (US$21,679) to a craft group but the court had video evidence showing the bribery.

“Not only that but there were also gifts that were given. Monetary gifts, gifts with food items given to people in the election to influence them in voting for them. That applied, the same thing, the giving of gifts, applied to Sangster Saulala as well,” Moala said.

In total, seven MPs are facing accusations of bribery over the election, with four more cases to be decided this week.

One MPs has so far been exonerated by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, by-elections should be held whenever there is a vacancy in Parliament, said the Electoral Commissioner Pita Vuki. 

Two People’s Representatives seats, for Tongatapu 10 and Tongatapu 7 constituencies, are vacant after the Supreme Court voided the election of the current members.

“We are not sure if they [will] appeal but once confirmed, a date for by-elections will be set in consultation with the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly,” said Vuki.