By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania
NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga — Pro-democracy candidates won more than half the available seats in Tonga’s Parliament in Thursday’s elections. The newly elected members are, meanwhile, facing sedition charges for alleged participation in riots that destroyed Tonga’s capital in 2006.In Tonga’s political system, the people elect nine Parliamentary members, nobles appoint another nine, and the King appoints 15, which include all the country’s ministers.
Of the nine MPs popularly elected, the pro-democracy candidates won six seats. The pro-democracy movement’s leader, Akilisi Pohiva, garnered the most support, winning 11,290 votes. The second most popular candidate attracted some 4,000 fewer votes. Thursday’s election saw a record number of people register, 68,0000, to elect the nine representatives.
“I think the message is clear now. The outcome of the election is like a referendum because the government has been doing its very best, using all its resources, and dominating all the media outlets trying to destroy us, but the battle is over now,” Pohiva said.
Thursday’s election is the first since 2006, when the pro-democracy movement turned violent, causing the death of eight and destroying Tonga’s capital city, Nuku’alofa. The riots erupted after the Legislative Assembly of Tonga adjourned for the year without employing promised reforms. Five of the six newly elected candidates, including Pohiva, are currently facing criminal charges for their alleged involvement in the riots.
One Australian resident, Inoke Fotu Hu’akau, who was unsuccessful in the election warned, “Pro-democracy is getting to be more like a cult than a political party. It is getting harder to counter it as time goes by.”
Although Tonga is presently a constitutional monarchy, the growing pro-democracy movement has urged King George Tupou V to make good on his proposed democratic reforms. Among its reforms, the Government has proposed giving the majority of legislative seats, now mostly occupied by the King’s ministers, to popularly elected officials during the 2010 elections.
The King appears willing to support a more democratic Tonga, but the pro-democratic movement wants his commitment in writing. Although the details of the 2010 reforms remain hazy, the people of Tonga have made their preferences for a more representative government abundantly clear.
For more information, please see:
The Australian — ‘Rioters’ poll best in Tonga — 26 April 2008
TVNZ — Tongans back democracy campaigners — 26 April 2008
BBC News — Tongans elect pro-democracy MPs — 25 April 2008
ABC Radio Australia — Tonga MPs call on king to keep promises over political involvement — 25 April 2008
ABC Radio Australia — Tong’as pro democracy movement wants King to back political reform — 25 April 2008
ABC News — Tongan MPs urge King to lessen political influence — 25 April 2008
The Sydney Morning Herald — Tonga pro-democracy MPs claim mandate — 25 April 2008