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Tonga’s dilemma

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

From Matangi Tonga magazine, Vol. 12, no. 4, October-December 1997

Editorial, By Pesi Fonua

A constitutional monarchy as a system of government has been serving Tonga since 1875 making it the oldest government in the South Pacific Islands region. It has also been recognised as the most stable government in the region.

But recently this 122-year-old system of government has come under pressure both from outside and from within the kingdom for some fundamental changes.

So far, the call for change has included a general demand for the king to give up some of his authority but, more precisely, there is a growing hope for more public participation in the government’s decision-making process. An example of this greater participation might come in the way of the people taking part in the selection of Cabinet Ministers.

But the dilemma for Tonga remains the glaring fact that there is not one elected government in the region, or in the world, that could act as a model for Tongan change: one which could provide a viable alternative to the existing constitutional monarchy that gives Tonga both its stability and protects its culture and traditions.

There are many examples of how elected forms of government, which give more latitude for conflicts and clashes between political rivals, have proven disastrous for developing countries with fragile economies.

The Tongan constitutional monarchy has been described by different people to mean many different things. While Tonga’s leaders in government, in business and in the society in general are quick to appreciate the system’s advantages and sure to complain about its failings, none is ready to offer an appealing recipe for change, and predictions are that for Tongans there would be no fundamental changes in the next ten to 20 years.

In the meantime, Tonga’s constitutional monarchy is clocking-up more experience as the oldest government in the region, and it seems more than likely that Tonga’s unique culture and society will roll along in its own way of doing things well into the beginning of the 21st century.