NEW TONGAN PRIME MINISTER A SURPRISE

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By Craig DeSilva

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (January 4, 2000 – PIDP/CPIS/Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---Tongans are reacting with surprise to King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV’s appointment of his youngest son, Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, as the Kingdom’s new prime minister.

Prince ‘Ulukalala, 41, was chosen for the post instead of his politically more experienced older brother Crown Prince Tupouto‘a.

"Most Tongans are very surprised to this particular appointment," said Akilisi Pohiva, an MP and a leader of the democracy movement in Tonga. "Most people expected the Crown Prince to be the next prime minister."

Prince ‘Ulukalala, who opposes Tonga’s fledgling democratic movement, has only served in office for one year as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Pohiva said the King had requested that Crown Prince Tupouto‘a return to government service after leaving office to pursue personal business interests. But the King didn’t accept the Crown Prince’s proposal to appoint new ministers, a move that would have required a change in the Constitution.

"He’s (Crown Prince Tupouto‘a) not prepared to work together with some and most of the present ministers, and that’s why he declined," Pohiva said. "It would have been a difficult exercise for His Majesty to accept that because he has to surrender his power to the prime minister. And that’s a major reform to our Constitution. I think His Majesty is not prepared to accept that reform."

Pohiva said unlike the rest of the ministers, Prince ‘Ulukalala will have a more open working relationship with the King.

"Under the present Constitution, no one else is quite prepared to disagree with His Majesty because he appoints all the ministers," Pohiva said. "That’s a major problem. Some of the ministers have to say no or disagree, but that doesn’t happen."

As in all the King's cabinet appointments, Prince ‘Ulukalala will be prime minister for life - a Tongan tradition the Crown Prince wanted to end.

Prince ‘Ulukalala replaces Baron Vaea, who retired from the office.

The appointment makes Prince ‘Ulukalala Tonga’s 4th premier in 41 years.

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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