The Trading Begins
Today might be a public holiday – it’s Queen’s Birthday – but for the members of the newly elected Niue Assembly, there is much to be done. The island is waiting for a new leader to take charge for the next three years.
In the absence of the former Premier Sir Toke Talagi, it is now up to the two cabinet ministers of Pokotoa Sipeli and Dalton Tagelagi to marshal their supporters from the old Assembly to try and form the government. From the old caucus there’s Talaititama Talaiti of Vaiea, Dion Taufitu of Toi, Opili Talafasi of Hikutavake, Jack Willie of Namukulu, Mona Ainu’u of Tuapa and Tofua Puletama of Makefu. There is a tie for Mutalau but the sitting member Maureen Melekitama can be counted on for her support – if she is returned. This will give them a total of nine.
In the opposite camp, there is O’love Jacobsen, Terry Coe, Stan Kalauni and Crossley Tatui, all from the Common Roll. For the time being the seat for Alofi Tokelau is held by Va’aiga Tukuitoga with a one vote majority. This gives them a total of five.
On these numbers alone, the Jacobsen group would need to work hard. The challenge for the Sipeli group is to retain the support.
The unknowns at this time with their support and allegiance are Muiaki Makani of Tamakutoga, Poimamao Vakanofiti of Avatele, Richie Mautama of Hakupu and John Tiakia of Lakepa. And then there’s the two new CR members of Richard Hipa and Sauni Tongatule. All these new members are potentially the King makers.
Based on former alliances, Tamakautoga, Avatele, Hakupu and Lakepa had backed the old government. If these four decide to maintain their allegiance then the Sipeli camp has the numbers. But as anyone who has knowledge of the island’s political landscape, would know that nothing is that simple.
For the village of Tamakautoga, the former representative was a MAM – member assisting the minister, an associate minister in other words. The new member and another rookie Muiaki Makani could well ask for the same position.
In the case of Avatele, the newly elected representative Poimamao Vakanofiti is a rookie. He has yet to make known his allegiance, despite the fact that the former member of the village was a senior minister in the Talagi government. Vakanofiti can hold out for the best deal he can get.
The same thing applies to Richie Mautama of Hakupu another rookie. The former member for the village was a supporter of the Talagi government, but Hakupu has two MPs – the other is CR member Crossley Tatui who was in the unofficial opposition. He was re-elected. If the two members are of a mind to present a solid front for the village in the House, it is likely that Mautama will follow the more experienced Tatui. Maybe!
Lakepa presents another scenario. The successful challenger John Tiakia is a former member of the Assembly. He is an experienced politician and while his leaning maybe towards the Jacobsen camp, he too would be looking for the best deal.
That leaves the two rookies who pulled off a coup that has left the island smiling – not in any vindictive way, more in the typical island-style of astonishment, as in Oi oi ae ae. Richard Hipa and Sauni Tongatule topped the CR and in the process, relegated veterans O’love Jacobsen and Terry Coe to the fifth and sixth seats. Their first and second placing on the Common Roll means that they both have a great advantage around the negotiating table. But it can amount to nought if they are not in the right camp.
Both the Sipeli camp and the Jacobsen camp are aware that the island is looking for a change. Policy changes can take some time to implement. Having a new face or new faces in the cabinet line-up is not only immediate but also very visible. It’s time to deliver.