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Tongan Democracy is negotiable

Auckland, New Zealand


At the risk of getting in a dull back-and-forth with Senituli, I do note that we agree on one thing.

Senituli argues for a “democratic monarchy” …– this is, in fact, what most believers in democratic reform want at the moment, i.e. King is still head of state, he has the right to pick the ministers, but he has to pick them from an elected pool. (For the demo. movement, they wanted 17 chosen by the people, 9 by the nobles).

Government’s compromise was that the King could pick his own 4 from outside this group, plus 14 elected PR’s and 9 from nobles …– this I thought was workable.

On Nov.9 2006 the PR’s suddenly switched and asked for 21 PR’s and 9 for nobles (definitely not the abolishment of the monarchy, although it heavily curbed the King’s powers).

Now, personally, as a Tongan citizen, I did not support this. And it is misleading to box every pro-reformer as having “all eggs in the same basket” as Senituli said.

Moreover, Senituli “never heard of any proclamation of non-violent resistance” since the movement started. The fact is, the movement was founded in the 90’s with key support from the likes of the late Bishop Finau and later, Rev. Simote Vea amongst other key community leaders who did want reform through peace. (In fact, I think they toned down any extremism at the time).

Current PM Sevele (formerly a PR) and his advisor Lopeti Senituli were also active members of the movement. Appointed to government, they were already working for fairly gradual democratic reform from within the structure …– which I commend.

And on his coronation in ‘08, HM George V did actually publicly surrender his executive powers, so I’m confused why Senituli doubts the King would do this.

Now, reform is not just about parliament …– its about mentality and culture. And that is why it will take long. My casual suggestion for education (through schools, grass roots seminars à la PDM “kava bowl” approach, media etc), is not a quick fix solution but a start for long-term investment, with primary responsibility in government, but also others like NGO’s.

A bottom-up widening of people’s perspectives can boost the top-down work with a reformed monarchy. It won’t “delay reform” …– reform is already happening and was happening very intensely even before 16/11.

My personal views,

Josephine Latu.


pacific [dot] media [at] aut [dot] ac [dot] nz

(And on a side note about my interpretation of “absolute democracy” - while it exists in theory (and just because Plato says one thing does not make it fact), it has never been “absolute” in practice. The Greek democracy excluded slaves and women, the U.S. barred blacks only until the 60’s, and in Tonga it’s a negotiation with hierarchy. Democracy is not perfect, thus my refusal to idolize it, but it has its uses.)