The nominations for 17th Fono Ekepule will close next week on Thursday 14 May. Sixteen days later, on Saturday 30 May, the electors of Niue will be able to choose their political leaders for the next three years.
There’s little sign of any obvious campaigning yet which is in keeping with past practice. The reason for this is not hard to understand. The island’s electoral system is largely village based which means that each is a constituency; there are 14 villages represented by an equal number of elected members. In some villages the seat is not contested when there is only one nomination. If the seat is contested, the campaigning ends at the village boundary.
There is an additional 6 seats to be decided by the whole island – these are the so called Common Roll seats. So why the 6 seats? The architects of our Constitution had recognised that, in time, it may be difficult to unseat the village representatives – typically selected on more traditional lines rather than on policies. The provision of the Common Roll seats was, to some extent, an opportunity for the voters to elect representatives who are more focused on policies. We say ‘to some extent’ because the old habit of voting for family and friends has spilled over from the village constituencies. Candidates have been known to be elected on no more than a vague promise to ‘help the country’ – taute e tau gahua ke lagomatai e kautu. There are signs that this practice might be changing but don’t hold your breath.
Campaigning, such as it is, will come from the Common Roll candidates. Already the electorate is buzzing with speculation on the expected numbers. There were no less than 23 in the last elections. We can expect a similar number this time, but don’t expect any town-hall type rally. It will be low-key and will most likely to be no more than distributing pamphlets in the villages. In the last election, only the Alofi South Village Council opened its hall and invited candidates to present their policies.
For the time being, while the electorate awaits the list of Common Roll candidates, it’s worth noting a trend that has developed over the past elections. Since 2008 the Common Roll seats have been dominated by Alofi residents. In 2008, all six seats went to Alofi; in the next election in 2011, five seats were captured by Alofi with one from Hakupu; those numbers, 5 Alofi and 1 Hakupu, were to be maintained for 2014 and 2017. Against the background of such telling numbers, it would not be unreasonable to deduce that the same trend will continue in the coming elections – except for one thing, this is Niue politics. The only thing certain about Niue politics is its uncertainty. It is also important to point out that the Alofi residents on the Common Roll in the last Assembly would not have made it to the House without strong support from the electors in other villages.
For the incoming members they will find that the Talagi Administration has left for them a typical Niue playing field, smooth in most parts, rocky in places with the odd hazardous spot here and there. The diaspora’s conspiracy theorists would undoubtedly prefer to see that order reversed. There are also those who persist in their claim that millions are missing or unaccounted for, citing the recently released unfavourable audit report. The simple fact is that the audit report has made no such claim. Does that mean that all is well in the state of Denmark my prince? Of course not – there are some serious challenges ahead and a good place to start is to bring the government accounts up to date and complete the audit. If there’s any skulduggery it will be revealed by that process. This process by the way is being addressed as we go to the polls. The new government, if it is to maintain the trust of the people, must also address the issue of transparency and accountability for all government businesses; that promise had been made by the outgoing administration. As for the economy as a whole, the island’s tourism industry has virtually grounded to a halt. It behoves the Chosen Ones to hit the ground running and bring the industry back to life.
Watch this space for more when the final list of candidates is released.