In this our final post for 2017, we had intended it to be a reflective piece; it is after all that time of the year when we pause to take stock of where we’ve been in the past twelve months. In so doing we may be able to learn from that experience which may help charter a course for the next. One of our distinguished theologians, Dr Matagi Vilitama use the analogy of paddling our vaka; forward momentum is generated only when a backward force is applied with the paddle.
In the end, we decided not to use the broad-brush approach but to just concentrate on one event. This one event contains all the elements that makes life so interesting for those who choose to live on the atoll; drama, intrigue, deception, excitement, betrayal, broken promises and a little laughter.
It would be fair to say that if we have to single out one event in 2017 that occupied our collective undivided attention it would have to be the general election. There were early indications that the Talagi led government was going to face its most serious challenge yet – possibly for the first time since assuming power in 2008.
Those who saw the need for change were quick to draw the electorate’s attention to the ailing health of the leader; the winds of change were about to blow hard over Nukututaha, or so it seemed. However, the hoped for strong winds of change proved to be no more than a puff – a gentle breeze wafting through the palm trees.
The opposition had failed to convince the electorate that they had the means to form an alternative viable administration to that of Talagi. Worst, two of the island’s most capable politicians were ousted – Hon B V Motufoou and Hon Togia Sioneholo. Motufoou had held a cabinet post in both the Lakatani and the Vivian administrations and Sioneholo had served a term in the first Talagi administration.
For the village of Hakupu, this election marked the end of an era. The political life of Hon Young Vivian, a life that was given freely and generously had finally come to an end. There was jubilation for the victor Michael Jackson, but for those who had any sense of history there was genuine sadness; Young Vivian was the last serving member in a group of men and women, the likes of whom we will never see again, who shouldered the responsibility of self-government from its embryonic stage to the present day.
If the opposition had a glimmer of hope leading up to the elections it was reduced to zero when, just days before the country went to the polls, the government announced a massive pay increase for public servants. While the timing was absolutely appalling, in reality, it may have had little effect on the final outcome of the elections.
So what went wrong with those who had ambitions of leading the country? What did they do wrong? Essentially they did nothing wrong – not really.
After 40-odd years of self-government the voting habits of the island’s small electorate has become more or less entrenched. For the common roll, family and personal ties hold more sway than sensible forward looking policies. For the village constituencies it comes down to the basic question size. If mine is bigger than yours, family that is, I win. This is a society where returning a favour takes precedence over any policy.
The play for power did not end with the general elections – a sequel, such as it was, was to take centre stage later in the year when a motion of no confidence in the government was tabled in the House.
Opposition members came out with both barrels blazing – but take away the shopping list of complaints on the government’s performance, legitimate or otherwise, what did it all came down to? What was it really all about?
There can only be one answer. Conspicuous by his prolonged absence in New Zealand undergoing medical treatment, the opposition parliamentarians were calling for the Premier to step down. With his gong from the Palace tucked safely in his back pocket, it’s time to call it a day. What the island needed now is a Leader and not a Ruler.
All that argument though, was firmly kicked into touch – nay, not just into touch but out of the ball park in fact – by a very loyal government caucus. The motion of no confidence in the government of Sir Toke Talagi was defeated by a thumping majority. All this was done in the absence of the Knight himself. He was in Auckland.
Monuina e tau foou ma tau fakahelehele!