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Tongans want greater democracy, government commission finds

Tongans want greater democracy, government commission finds

Tongans want their near-feudal kingdom to become a democracy, Parliament was told Wednesday in a report expected to precede sweeping political reform in the South Pacific country.
While Tongans want the monarchy to remain sacred and the nation's nobles to retain their hereditary titles, "at the same time they want the people to elect all members of Parliament," said Sitiveni Halapua, chairman of the National Committee for Political Reform.
Under Tonga's current constitution, the king appoints the prime minister and Cabinet and approves nobles to fill 23 of Parliament's 32 seats. Voters elect just nine lawmakers.
Halapua was presenting the first part of the committee's report after several months of consultation with Tongans on their aspirations for political, economic and social reform.
The work comes amid rising pressure for reform in the impoverished country, including strikes by thousands of public servants that paralyzed the capital last year.
The report comes less than a month after the death of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, who ruled for 41 years and began cautious moves toward reforms, but who also became increasingly autocratic in his final years.
Tonga's new king, Siaosi Tupou V, gave strong backing to the committee's work when he was the Crown Prince. Most Tongans believe the report will help initiate reforms in their homeland.
The report's full recommendations are to be presented to Parliament later this week.
Halapua said people were divided over details of the process for electing lawmakers.
Some want voters to elect them; others want the king to continue appointing the prime minister and all other ministers, and a third group wants the king to nominate candidates but let the people elect them, he said.
The introduction to the report emphasized that peace was an essential requirement for any successful reform program.
Tonga, a nation of 114,000 people, is bordering on bankruptcy. It faces mounting poverty and unemployment among its youth, and relies heavily on money remitted from its citizens living abroad and on aid funds.
Halapua said concern over the number of Chinese immigrants _ who form a key part of business and commerce in Tonga and other South Pacific nations _ was raised in almost every meeting with the public.
He believes people reacted in such a way because Tonga has never been colonized, and its people feel threatened by the growing number of Chinese.
Lawmaker 'Isileli Pulu said fears about the influx of ethnic Chinese into Tonga could disrupt the peace that is necessary for successful reform.


Updated : 2021-04-20 16:47 GMT+08:00