Fri, Oct 06, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Tongan committee recommends major democratic changes


A Tongan government committee yesterday recommended sweeping democratic changes to the semi-feudal political system less than a month after a new king was proclaimed in Polynesia's last monarchy.

The king and nobles currently control the parliament in the poor South Pacific archipelago of 115,00 people. But the head of the government's reform committee has told parliament that all legislators should be popularly elected.

Committee chairman Sitiveni Halapua told parliament that the country's laws should be changed to establish a "fully elected parliament by the people, for the people."

Tongans were unanimous in their desire for reform and for parliament to be popularly elected, he told parliament.

Currently commoners can elect only nine of the legislators, another nine are selected by 33 nobles and the rest are Cabinet ministers appointed by the king.

The majority also wanted to retain the monarch and 33 nobles at the head of Tonga's social system.

Halapua is still to present the committee's detailed recommendations to parliament, which does not meet again until next week.

The committee was set up by the government following pro-democracy demonstrations and a six-week public service strike last year which saw a royal house and several government cars burned.

The death last month of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV after a 41-year reign brought his eldest son, Siaosi Tupou V, to the throne.

The former crown prince, known for his taste for ornate uniforms and the London taxi which drives him around Nuku'alofa, was resented by many Tongans for spending much of his time overseas and his extensive business interests.

But he is considered to be more open to reform than his father and a statement from the royal palace last week said that he would "hasten appropriate changes to the system of government in response to the democratic wishes of the people."

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