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Pacific News Minute: Debate on Democracy in Tonga After King Calls a Snap Election

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The King of Tonga issued a royal decree last week that dissolved parliament and set elections a year early. The decision represents a vote of no confidence in the government of the country’s first democratically elected Prime Minister and a test for democracy itself. We have more, from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

In 2010, the people of Tonga elected the majority of the legislature for the first time but nine of the 26 seats in parliament are reserved for the Nobility and the King retains considerable power as well.

In 2014, long time democracy advocate Akilisi Pohiva became the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister. He survived a vote of no confidence engineered by the nobility earlier this year, but last week, the Speaker of Parliament, Lord Tu’ivakano, asked King Tupou to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections. 

In a statement, the Speaker said he objected to several government decisions, but what pushed him over the edge, was the introduction of a bill to transfer the power to appoint the police commissioner and attorney general from the King and his privy council to the Prime minister and the cabinet.

Prime Minister Pohiva called the decree an attempted coup.  And while he said he originally planned to retire at the end of this term, he will now run for reelection. Pohiva’s administration has been controversial, but Tongan Academic Malakai Koloa-matangi, the head of Pasifika at Massey University told Radio New Zealand that his proposed reform was the heart of the matter: “I think the evolution of democracy in Tonga has still some way to go,” he said,” and I think the government may have been pushing too hard and too quickly for the king to surrender his remaining powers.”

Elections must be held by November 16th.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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