Kingdom still faces many obstacles on path to democracy, conference organiser says

Tonga is at the crossroads on the path to finding its own form of democracy.

Speaking ahead of this week’s National Dialogue on Democracy in Nuku’alofa, Massey University academic Dr Malakai Koloamatangi said the dismissal of the government by the king had placed the country at what he called “a landmark juncture.”

He said the path to defining a genuine Tongan democracy had been beset with hurdles and challenges.

These included the debate around the representation of the nobility in parliament, as well as the extent and exercise of the King’s residual powers.

Dr Koloamatangi, who is helping organise the event, also raised the possibility of a women’s quota in parliament.

He said tensions between the government and the media and the need for more professionalism in the reporting of the news were a concern.

The fact that half the country’s operating budget consisted of foreign aid had many people worried about the kingdom’s economic stability and growth, as did the need to constantly rejuvenate the private sector for growth.

There were problems with infrastructure and development in the capital and not enough attention was being paid to the development of tourism, despite the fact that it was regarded as a generator of much needed revenue.

There were continuing health issues, with non-communicable diseases affecting the potential productivity of the population and the cost this imposed on an already struggling economy.

Dr Koloamatangi said there were issues with law and order and the police had to be re-trained as an instrument of law enforcement in a democratic society.

He said many of the ideals and ideas that were expressed at the Convention on the Tongan Constitution and Democracy in November 1992, where the first real public call for democracy was made, had not been realised.

He said there had been significant reforms since the first democratic election was held, many of which involved curtailing the king’s powers.

However, some people had argued that these reforms had not gone far enough and that a genuine ‘Tongan’ democracy could only come about with more durable constitutional and political reforms.

“Others say that not only have there been too many reforms, which have been detrimental to the very cultural and spiritual foundation upon which the 1875 constitution was constructed, they have not delivered on the promise of more transparent and accountable government or on the prosperity that was supposed to have accompanied more democratisation,” Dr Koloamatangi said.

The main points

  • Tonga is at the crossroads on the path to finding its own form of democracy.
  • Speaking ahead of this week’s National Dialogue on Democracy in Nuku’alofa, Massey University academic Dr Malakai Koloamatangi said the dismissal of the government by the king had placed the country at what he called “a landmark juncture.”
  • He said the path to defining a genuine Tongan democracy had been beset with hurdles and challenges.
  • These included the debate around the representation of the nobility in parliament, as well as the extent and exercise of the King’s residual powers.

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