The drama behind the election of Speaker for Niue Assembly.
The election of the Speaker for the 17th Niue Assembly will be recorded in the history books as one of the most controversial, since the first Assembly in 1975, following self-government in 1974. It took the 20-member House no less than three rounds of secret voting and a short recess to consult legal counsel, before Hima Douglas was elected by a magnanimous majority of one vote.
To understand why it took three ballots, let’s talk history. The island’s first Speaker, Sam Pata Emani Tagelagi – coincidentally the father of current Premier Dalton Tagelagi – was elected unopposed. The Speaker of the Niue Legislative Assembly is elected from outside the ranks of the elected representatives. If the Assembly were to elect a Speaker from their own ranks, that member must resign his seat.
In the early stages of self-government, members were at liberty to either support or oppose the government during any debate in the House, after consulting the village (constituency). This was real grass-roots democracy and it worked rather well. But it was not long before factions started appearing; there were members who would consistently oppose any government proposal. Over time they were identified as the unofficial opposition. When one political party made an appearance the inevitable happened; they nominated their own candidate for Speaker.
When the Niue People’s Party (1987 – 2003) collapsed, an unofficial opposition emerged from the ruins. MPs supporting the government formed their own caucus. On the election of a new Assembly, each side would nominate their own candidate for Speaker. The result of the election of a Speaker was often a useful pointer as to who was going to be Premier. Without fail, the Speaker has always been the government’s nominee. That was until 10 June 2020.
But even before the two candidates were to battle it out in public, there was drama leading up. For the government caucus, there were five people, including the current Speaker, who had expressed their interest. In the end it came down to just two, the Speaker of the 16th Assembly Togiavalu Pihigia and newcomer Hima Douglas.
Supporters of Douglas in the government caucus, Dion Taufitu of Toi for one, had argued that it was time to bring in someone of Douglas’s calibre who not only has the respect of members from both sides, but who could restore some credibility, to the neutral position of the role. After more debate the caucus decided to stay with the old Speaker. He was after all, identified with the old government.
Meantime, across the other side of the political divide, the unofficial opposition had got wind of the tussle. Their own candidate Esther Pavihi, the first woman to be considered for nomination, graciously agreed to withdraw in favour of Douglas. This was a huge decision for them as it was no great secret that the old Speaker had made the Niue Assembly debating chambers, a very uncomfortable place for Mrs Jacobsen and her team. The opportunity to break the government’s stronghold and to do it with someone neutral was too great to pass up. It was then left to two experienced politicians Stan Kalauni, Common Roll and John Tiakia, Member for Lakepa, to do the nomination and hope for the support of some in the government caucus.
After a nerve-racking, fingernail-biting three rounds of voting, Hima Douglas won the day with just one single vote. For the first time ever, the government’s nominee for the Speaker was defeated. Hima Douglas’s first utterance to the Assembly was this: Na pihia ai te ma tau lilifu, e uka mo e vihu he tau fekau, ha ko e laliaga ke moua e puhala tonu, ke taatu ai e ha tautolu a kautu, ke he tau tau e i mua. *
For the new Speaker, winning the vote may turn out to be the easy part. The challenge is to lift the performance of members and to give each one a fair go; that is going to need all his skills. We wish him well.
*Honourable members, choosing the right path for our island to follow in the next few years, can be fraught with difficulties.
Footnote: With the departure of our Niue contributing Editor for the political corridors of power and intrigue, we are now looking for a replacement. Get in touch if you’re interested.
Pic Credit for Feature Pic: Tifaga FB.