Monday, December 20, 2010

Parliamentary secrecy in Tonga

Last month Tonga held (mostly) democratic elections, which saw its people elect a majority of Parliamentary seats for the first time in their history. Today sees the final act of that process, with the newly elected Parliament meeting to choose a Prime Minister. Two names have been put forward: democracy campaigner 'Akilisi Pohiva and former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Siale'ataonga Tu'ivakano. The 17 people's and 9 noble's representatives will debate the nomination, and then choose between the candidates... by secret ballot.

The use of a secret ballot in this decision is an appalling abuse of democracy. Voters need the secret ballot to protect them from intimidation and to ensure they are free to choose whoever they prefer. But elected legislators aren't voters, but representatives. Every vote cast by them in Parliament is by definition a public act, and one for which they should be able to be held accountable. A secret ballot prevents that. It allows MPs to lie to their voters about what they did in office, to promise one thing, and do another. And that makes a mockery of democracy.