Elections, widely considered the first ones for a responsible government, were held in the Pacific islands of Tonga on November 25. Tonga, a Polynesian archipelago in the South Pacific is a traditional monarchy with a rigid class structure composed of a monarch, nobles and commoners. Traditionally, nobles carried out the day-to-day role of governing the country and the Parliament – largely composed of nobles – was rather irrelevant in that the King chose the Prime Minister without consultation of the Parliament. However, better education and globalization have challenged these rigid structures and Tongans have pushed increasingly for democracy. King George Tupou V, who succeeded his obese amiable father King George Tupou IV in 2006, has been instrumental in bringing about a peaceful transition to democracy by indicating his desire to transfer most of his powers to a Prime Minister who would be responsible to Parliament.
In 2008 and since 1987, however, only nine of the Legislative Assembly’s 30 members were directly elected in multi-member constituencies by SNTV. Nine ‘noble’ members were elected by the noble aristocracy amongst themselves and the remaining 12 were appointed by the King. Pro-democracy movements, notably the Human Rights and Democracy Movement (HRDM), dominated most of the directly elected seats but formed only the opposition. Violent riots in 2006 played an important role in speeding up the democratization process, especially after most of the leaders of these pro-democracy riots were swept back into office in the 2008 elections. Reforms ahead of this year’s snap elections saw the number of direct seats increased from 9 to 17 (65%) while the 12 appointed seats were scrapped. These 17 seats would now be elected by FPTP in single-member districts. The new Prime Minister would be chosen by parliamentarians, ushering in a “commoner” Prime Minister and responsible government. The cabinet would have 11 members (or so), with only 4 (instead of 15) nominated by the King.
Here are the results:
Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands winning 12 seats
Independents winning 5 seats
Nobles’ representatives 9 seats
The pro-democracy DPFI, a new party formed by members of the HRDM, swept the election. They took all but one of the 10 seats on Tongatapu, the main island group which includes the capital Nuku’alofa. The veteran pro-democracy leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva, a top candidate for Prime Minister, won his seat in Tongatapu-1 with 62.5% of the vote. They also won both seats in the central Ha’apai island group. Pro-democracy independents which will support the DPFI won Tongatapu-5 and in ‘Eua (a small island near Tongatapu). In remote and conservative Vava’u, traditionalist independents won the 3 seats up for grabs there, as they always do.