Reports Tonga PM has resigned from Defence to ‘appease’ king says government source

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni (Photo: PM Press)

The Tongan Independent has reported that Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni and Minister Utoikamanu of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had resigned from the portfolios.

Senior sources within the Tongan government have told Kaniva News they believe reports that the Prime Minister has resigned.

Deputy Clerk of Parliament Sione Vikilani said that he was not aware of this rumour going around on social media. “We cannot give any comment because this is just a rumour, and [there is] no official statement on the matter.”

Kaniva News has contacted Prime Minister and Chief Secretary for confirmation of the report and is waiting for a response.

The Independent has adopted a strongly anti-Sovaleni tone, criticising the government’s involvement in Lulutai airlines, claiming he was too ill to serve and that he and Utoikamanu were trying to usurp King Tupou VI’s authority.

It is understood that the Prime Minister had flown to Niuafo’ou to meet His Majesty.

Relations between the Prime Minister and the throne have been tense since the king issued a memo saying he no longer supported Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku as the Minister for His Majesty’s Armed Forces and Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Tourism.

The Prime Minister ignored the king’s memo.

As Kaniva reported earlier, the Nobles responded by demanding that the Prime Minister and Utoikamanu resign immediately to assuage King Tupou VI’s disappointment.

The Nobles circulated a letter which described the Prime Minister’s refusal to accept the King’s show of power as very concerning and intimidating the peace of the country.

“We are the king’s cultural preservers (‘aofivala). Therefore, we propose that you and your government respect the king’s desire,” the letter read in Tongan.

“The king has withdrawn his confidence and consent from you as Defence Minister as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu.

“We urge you to resign immediately from the Ministry of Defence as well as Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu to resign from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tourism”.

This is not the first time the king has directly interfered in the workings of a democratically elected government.

The king is said to have been heavily influenced by certain of his Privy Councillors, including Lord Tu’aivakanō, who advised him to dissolve the government of the late ‘Akilisi Pohiva in 2017.

Lord Tu’aivakanō justified his behaviour by claiming that Pohiva’s government wanted to remove the Privy Council’s role in appointing positions like the Police Commissioner and Attorney General.

As we wrote at the time: “Lord Tu’ivakano said it was clear the government was trying to wear away the powers of the King and Privy Council, which he could not abide.”

Pohiva’s government was re-elected. Lord Tu’aivakanō is said to have signed the Noble’s letter criticising the Prime Minister.