After three weeks of frenzied activity, it is now time for the final showdown. Our man on the island, Takelesi filed this report.
The Elected Few
It is a cloudy but warm autumn morning on the Island; the strong winds battering the Motu for the past week have now abated – a sign perhaps that after the turmoil of Elections 17, Nukututaha can look forward to the peace and tranquillity that it normally enjoys.
Members are seated in alphabetical order
Here at the debating chambers of the Niue Assembly, people have started arriving an hour before the House is due to sit. Supporters, families and friends are here to witness for the 16th time a process that started 43 years ago in 1974, when the first Niue Assembly chose Sam Pata Tagelagi to be Speaker and Robert Richmond Rex to be the first Premier.
The Acting Clerk of the House calls the members to order. One by one, they file in. The old hands stride in with confidence and head for their seats. The seating for today is in alphabetical order.
The new members, there are really only two, showing signs of nervousness, are shown their seats. Mrs Jacobsen makes her entrance and do the rounds, greeting members with a handshake before taking her seat. Sir Toke Talagi drives his car down to the entrance to the Fale Fono. He is accompanied by Lady Talagi. On his left breast he is wearing his brand new knighthood badge. He moves to his selected seat, pausing to shake the hands of those close by.
Sir Toke in the middle
Fale Fono staff have opened up the Chambers for friends and family to enter. The NZ Commissioner HE Ross Ardern takes his usual seat – he is the only non-elected official permitted in the chambers at all sittings of the Assembly.
There is a large presence of students from the Niue High School – senior students are permitted to sit in the chambers. In their midst could well be future leaders of the country.
Soon the Acting Clerk escorts the former Speaker Togia Pihigia into the chambers; he will conduct the swearing-in for all members. Each member has the option of using Vagahau Niue or English – most chose the language that their ancestors brought with them from Fonua Galo.
At the conclusion of the swearing-in, the Speaker vacates the chambers. The Acting Clerk Mrs Melissa Douglas calls for order and asks for nominations for the Speaker for the 16th Assembly. Two names are put forward – from the Talagi camp, Togiavalu Pihigia; from the Jacobsen camp, Togia Sioneholo. The vote is taken and counted – 6 for Sioneholo, 14 for Pihigia.
The newly-elected-old-Speaker is invited back to the Chambers where he takes the oath and then proceeds to call for the nomination for the Premier. Only two names are put forward – Sir Toke Talagi and Mrs O’love Jacobsen. Three weeks of campaigning, one week of horse-trading, a few days of hard negotiations, of promises made, and maybe not made – all has come down to this moment.
Nearest the camera Opili Talafasi of Hikutavake
There is a hush in the Chambers, not a sound from the public gallery, some of the students who had to stand outside, became a little less fidgety. Soon the votes are collected ready to be counted. Hon Dion Taufitu who nominated Sir Toke and Hon Va’aiga Tukuitoga who nominated O’love Jacobsen are invited to observe as the votes are counted. Each vote is carefully extracted from the Katotia, each is unfolded and placed in a pile. One pile begins to build in numbers. Those who can see the clerks clearly are making their own count. It was there for all to see – one pile had more pieces of paper than the other. The two scrutineers are asked if they are satisfied before the Clerk hands the result to the Speaker.
Votes for Sir Toke 15. Votes for O’love Jacobsen 5. The only Knight of the realm will lead the Government of Niue for the next three years.