The upcoming by-election in Tuvalu to fill the vacant seat held by the former finance minister, the late Lotoala Metia, is proving to be a ‘hot and sensitive’ issue on the island.
Both the government and the opposition are keeping their plans close to their chest.
Prime Minister Willie Telavi is yet to announce a date for the by-election on the island of Nukufetau much to the chagrin of the opposition members who criticise the ‘long silence’ by the government.
There is a lot of interest on who will fill the vacant seat, as it could also spell the fall or otherwise of the current administration of Willie Telavi, whose power to remain in office rests on this one member.
Prime Minister Telavi has ruled with a slim majority of just one member, since he came to power in December 2010 - until Metia’s death in December last year. Both the government and the opposition now level with seven members each.
After the death of Metia in Suva, the opposition has been actively campaigning in the hope to get the seat while government has remained tight-lipped on their next move. Tuvalu’s Constitution requires that government call for a by-election as soon as practicable to replace the vacant seat. It however does not specify the time frame for government to issue notice of by-election.
Under Section 88 (2) of the island’s constitution, a by-election is to be called as soon as practicable after the occurrence of any vacancy in the membership of parliament.
The opposition is lamenting that it’s now over a month and government hasn’t publicly announced its plans for a by-election. The wait, according to the opposition, is giving time for government to consolidate its position so that it can hang on to power. On the other hand, government is telling the opposition to ‘get its act together’ before a by-election will be called.
In the meantime, there is general feeling of restlessness on the island, especially on Nukufetau. An incident in December immediately after the death of Metia has sparked fears of a huge division between groups supporting the current government and the opposition. A man was bashed by groups supporting the opposition on the island. There is now worry the issue could flare up any time causing irreparable damage if the by-election is not called soon. After the incident, an attempt by the church to reconcile the two groups was rejected by village elders and the local Falekaupule.
On the main island of Funafuti, there have been a few encounters between the two groups, which local community leaders are worried may lead to a ‘dangerous’ situation. The highly volatile situation is easily triggered by comments against each group, even between young people.
It is so bad on the island of Nukufetau, that politics has divided families. The two MP’s Enele Sopoanga and the late Lotoala Metia are closely related and their different political leanings have divided their families, who obviously take different sides when politics is discussed in their homes.
Government and the opposition need to sit down and discuss the issue and inform the people of Tuvalu their plans before people start taking the law into their own hands.
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