Tongan monarch gives electoral changes his full backing | Pacific Beat

Tongan monarch gives electoral changes his full backing

Tongan monarch gives electoral changes his full backing

Updated 15 February 2012, 13:03 AEDT

The King of Tonga says the more representative political system which will see ordinary voters electing the majority of seats in Parliament is something he has been pushing for for a long time.

At the election this Thursday voters will choose 17 MPs to represent them, while the Nobles will have nine seats.

Bruce Hill is in Nuku'alofa covering the elections for Pacific Beat, and he's been talking to King George Tupou V who says far from the electoral changes being forced on him, he's been behind them right from the start.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speaker: King George Tupou V of Tonga

KING GEORGE TUPOU V: I think it's a natural development of the original 19th century constitution. It's an attempt to take the principles of that constitution and apply them in 21st century idiom, which of course has to be democracy.

HILL: Is there something that you particularly support?

KING GEORGE TUPOU V: Yes, yes, I have always wanted to do this for the country, and it's a very practical idea, our political life has to travel the same speed, the same level as the development of our economic life.

HILL: Is Tonga ready for this kind of more representative system, do you think?

KING GEORGE TUPOU V: I believe so, because for the past 150 years, we've had very democratic institutions, namely the churches, like the Christian Church in Western Europe even during the Middle Ages. These are probably the only truly democratic institutions which have existed in the country. For example, church affairs are discussed freely by the members who elect officials, bishops and presidents and it's one of the institutions in Tonga where a person of relatively humble beginnings can rise to a position of great power and influence by his own talents without aristocratic patronage.

HILL: What happens to your role as monarch under this new system, are your powers diminished or decreased or simply changed?

KING GEORGE TUPOU V: Officially, the sovereign's powers remain unchanged, because we are a monarchy, we have a unity of power as opposed to a separation of power. The difference in future is that I shall not be able to exercise any of my powers at will, but all the sovereign's powers must be exercised solely on the advice of the Prime Minister in most things and in traditional matters the law lords who advise exercise of power. In that case, I suppose we are different from other nominal monarchies which retain the trappings of monarchy, but actually govern themselves as republics.

HILL: Historically, kings have resisted diminution of their powers. Why do you think this is the way to go?

KING GEORGE TUPOU V: Well like others of my generation, my education has generally been a liberal European education and I feel sure that without a European education, with a solely Tongan education, I don't believe I would have been able to make these changes.

HILL: The events of 2006, when a pro-democracy rally got out of hand and there was rioting and burning and looting and much of the central business district of Nuku'alofa was destroyed, what role did that event play in getting this kind of political change, did it speed things up or was this change going to happen now anyway?

KING GEORGE TUPOU V: I think the changes would have happened anyway. But what the riots did for me, it vindicated my belief in the system's approach to change, which was compartmentalising each stage of the revolution and putting each stage under the charge or tutelage of different groups in society and in government.

HILL: After seeing the destruction did you feel under more pressure to move towards this change?

KING GEORGE TUPOU V: I didn't feel under pressure from below, but the pressure I felt was the pressure not to change, which was exerted on me from my own class in society.

HILL: What form did that pressure take?

KING GEORGE TUPOU V: People expressed to me their views, my fellow nobility expressed me their views and that perhaps Tonga was better off as it was before. But the other system, well I had a very simple answer to that and that was you can't expect to keep repeating the same mistakes and expect a different result, because that would be totally unreasonable.

HILL: Tonga is a very traditional kind of a system and the role of the monarch is very, very important in society. Will this political change lead to a change in relationship between you and the Tongan people?

KING GEORGE TUPOU V: I don't believe so. The relationship between the monarchy in Tonga and the people is one of blood, and indeed with the nobility as well, in that every Tongan, there is a Tongan phrase that literally means every Tongan has a road to the palace, which means that if you go back far enough in your ancestry you can find that you are related to this nobleman or that one or even to the king. In the past, the basis for this relationship has been one relative speaking to another, that is how they felt about it.

HILL: Is this new system ideal as it is or do you think there might be some more change further down the road?

KING GoeRGE TUPOU V: Well, what we've done is we've given it our best shot and so this is a model that we have come up with, that is the present government and I. But I hope that in the future, if the government or the parliament find that what we've put up, what we've proposed is inadequate in anyway, they will feel free to make the necessary adjustments. It is not an unchangeable thing. I think our constitution should be kept alive with minor changes and adjustments to suit life, as the country progresses.

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