Pacific News Minute: Setback for Tongan Monarchy as Democratic Reformers Sweep Elections

Nov 28, 2017

Flag of Tonga
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Later this week, Tonga’s freshly elected parliament will gather to elect a prime minister and form a new government – which is expected to look a great deal like the last government after the ruling Democratic Party scored a resounding victory two weeks ago. We have details from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

King George Tupou VI forced this election a year ahead of schedule, when he took the unprecedented step of dissolving parliament. The King and Tonga’s nobles cited several complaints with the government of ‘Akilisi Pohiva, but the key issue was a dispute over the power to name the Police Commissioner, the Attorney General and the anti-corruption Commissioner.

Under the monarchy, those appointments rested with the King and his Privy Council, but, as part of Tonga’s gradual transition to democratic rule, the Prime Minister moved to transfer that authority to the elected government.

The King and the nobles appear to have miscalculated. Pohiva’s Democratic Party won 14 of 17 seats and the veteran reformer emerged with a mandate to press ahead with change. Teena Brown Pulu, a senior lecturer at the Aukland University of Technology told Radio New Zealand, “The People were sending a very strong message to the nobility that you need to shift your thinking.”

Malakai Koloamatangi of the Pasifika University told the New Zealand website NewsHub, “I see it as a continued evolution of power, it’s part of the King becoming more ceremonial.”

In that ceremonial capacity, the King will welcome Tonga’s rugby team back home this week after a bitterly disputed loss in the semi-finals of the World Cup. Tonga’s team staged a furious comeback against England, but the referee disallowed a last second score that would have won the match…more than 50,000 people have signed an online petition of protest.