KEY FACTS: KINGDOM OF TONGA GENERAL ELECTION

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (March 5, 2002 – Agence France-Presse)---The Kingdom of Tonga will hold general elections Thursday. These are some key facts:

+ The kingdom covers a land area of 718 square kilometers (287 square miles) over 170 islands. Only 36 are permanently inhabited by the country’s 104,000 Polynesians.

+ Most political power is held by the 83-year-old constitutional monarch, King Taufa‘hau Tupou IV.

+ Bachelor Crown Prince Tupouto‘a, 53, is the designated successor but his younger brother, Prime Minister Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka ‘Ata, 43, is being tipped as the possible next king.

+ Sixth in line Princess Salote Pilolevu Tuita, 50, the king’s only daughter, is reputedly the richest person in the kingdom through her control of a lucrative state asset, satellite slot leasing.

+ The king’s life-appointed cabinet hold 12 of Parliament’s 30 seats while the 33 nobles hold another nine seats. Commoners elect nine representatives.

+ A total of 52 candidates are competing for the nine commoner seats.

+ The leading commoner representative, former schoolteacher ‘Akilisi ("Achilles") Pohiva, 61, became an MP in 1987 and has been the top polling politician since.

+ Pohiva heads the pro-democracy movement calling for a fully elected government; in 1999 it won five of the nine seats.

+ The king’s official court jester, American Buddhist Jesse Bogdonoff, last year lost about 26 million U.S. dollars of the kingdom’s passport sale revenue by investing in a Nevada re-insurance scam.

+ The kingdom’s gross domestic product per capita in 2000 was 2,200 U.S. dollars.

+ Tonga’s main export earner is squash pumpkin, sent to Japan.

+ The country receives around 40 million U.S. dollars a year in aid while Tongans outside the kingdom remit around 200 million pa‘anga (91 million U.S. dollars).

+ About 32,000 Tongans live in New Zealand.

+ Methodism is the state religion of the kingdom.

+ Tonga claims to have been the only Pacific state not to be colonized; the reality was no foreign power wanted it, although it was under British protection until 1970.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/  Website: http://www.michaelfield.org 

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