TONGA’S NOBLES VOTED WEDNESDAY, COMMONERS VOTE THURSDAY

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TONGA’S NOBLES VOTED WEDNESDAY, COMMONERS VOTE THURSDAY

By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (March 6, 2002 – Agence France-Presse)---Royal domination of the Tongan government was re-asserted Wednesday as the kingdom’s nobles meet in a secret conclave near the Royal Palace to elect their nine representatives in the 30-seat Legislative Assembly.

The Pacific nation’s 104,000 commoners will vote Thursday in their elections for nine seats but as King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV appoints a 12-man cabinet without election, the result of the ballot makes no difference to who rules.

The leading commoner representative, former school teacher ‘Akilisi Pohiva, 61, who became an MP in 1987 is likely to be the top vote getter Thursday, although the kingdom is in turmoil over an allegedly forged letter detailing the king’s secret fortune. [SEE: Forgery Allegations Hit Tongan Pro-Democracy Movement]

Tonga’s nobles are, in effect, the remnants of its ancient chiefly system and as such control access to much of the land.

A number of the noble titles are held by the royal family, including the king, but they have not always supported the monarchy. However, the divisions this time have been blurred.

The nobles decide among themselves which nine will sit in Parliament.

The successful candidates were announced by the Tongan Government Wednesday.

Among those returned was Noble Ma‘atu (nobles take only one name), the king’s second son, who in 1980 was known as Prince Fatafehi ‘Alaivahamama‘o Tuku‘aho. At that time he fell in love with a commoner, Heimataura Anderson, daughter of a Hawaiian millionaire and fled the kingdom to marry her. He was stripped of his royal titles and briefly became a commoner. Five years later Heimataura died of cancer and the ex-prince returned to Tonga. Later he married a granddaughter of Samoa’s Malietoa Tanumafili II, a traditional prince and Head of State.

Also returned to the noble seats in the Legislative Assembly is Prince Tu‘ipelehake, the king’s nephew, 11th in line to succession.

Both royals join the Prime Minister, Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka ‘Ata, the king’s third son.

Three new nobles were appointed to the assembly: Nobles Tu‘i‘afitu and Fakatulolo of the Vava‘u group of islands and Noble Vaha‘i from the main island, Tongatapu.

General voting begins in Tonga 9:00 a.m. Thursday and continues to 4:00 p.m.

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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