TONGA, LAST PACIFIC KINGDOM, COLLAPSING AROUND FAILING KING, NEW BOOK CLAIMS

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (July 31, 2002 – Agence France-Presse)---Tonga, Polynesia's last kingdom, which is beset with political and economic ruin, is about to be hit by a book that claims its Royal Family, lost in a "dark forest of moral and social bankruptcy," will either collapse or face revolt.

"My prediction is that things in the island kingdom will worsen until authorities relinquish their unbalanced hold on power," newspaper publisher Kalafi Moala writes in "Island Kingdom Strikes Back," the story of his independent weekly Taimi O Tonga (Times of Tonga).

"If they don't, the people will rise up and take in their own hands the destiny of the island kingdom."

Tonga is ruled by the near absolute King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV, 88. His children, Crown Prince Tupuoto‘a, 54, and Princess Pilolevu Tuita, 51, have in recent years seized control of key businesses.

The youngest sibling, Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, 43, is the life-term prime minister.

Founded in 1996, Taimi O Tonga has coincided with the growth of a pro-democracy movement. In 1996 Moala and reporter Filo ‘Akau‘ola, along with pro-democracy MP ‘Akilisi Pohiva, were jailed for a month when Parliament held they were in contempt for publishing a report about a minister.

Tongan born Moala lives in Auckland and needs prior approval to enter the kingdom and has been banned a number of times from entering.

In a forward to the book, pro-democracy co-founder and academic Futa Helu says human rights are unknown in Tonga.

"Take tolerance, for example, I cannot name one Tongan (except Kalafi, perhaps) who has had any meaningful experience of the sentiment," Helu claims.

"The upshot of all this is every Tongan, but especially members of the upper social classes, have prodigiously overblown egos, and are massively deluded as to their worth as persons, the pre-eminence of their families and the impossibility of maligning them or their own in any way.

"(But) Mr. Moala spells out in the boldest terms the bitterest and hardest hitting indictment ever penned of this society, its king and supporters, the royal family and the nobility."

Moala says the kingdom is "awash with scandals" connected to the monarchy and its government.

The latest is about the king's court jester, American Buddhist Jesse Bogdonoff, who won royal approval to take over a 50 million pa‘anga (20 million U.S. dollars) trust fund, which he then lost in the ethnically questionable viatical industry.

Moala says in recent speeches the king made no mention of it, preferring to talk about the importance of Tonga manufacturing shark nets.

"It seems over the years that His Majesty's normal way of handling crises was to deflect attention from them by drawing public attention to some dreamlike enterprise of his making.

"The king has lost the country's plot, if there ever was one."

There is a split in the kingdom between those who want continued rule without accountability against those who want the royal family to be held accountable to the people.

Tonga's 100,000 commoners hold only a third of the seats in the Legislative Assembly. The king holds another third, while the 33 nobles hold the remainder.

"I cannot understand why nobles, the majority of whom have traditionally been uneducated, immoral, corrupt and oppressive have a place in Tonga's Parliament," Moala said.

Like many in the pro-democracy movement, Moala says abolition of the monarchy is not an option. The balance of power is the issue.

"I fear that if the balance of power goes uncorrected, extreme elements in Tonga will pull harder in opposition directions, one toward abolition of the monarch, the other toward full dictatorial powers being granted to the monarch."

Moala said Tonga's leadership lacks vision.

"It has led the country down a pathway of selfish, blatant disregard for basic moral decency. A national policy of putting convenience before conscience has evolved, supported by meaningless tradition and empty patriotism."

Tonga is a corrupt society: "Tonga has been led into a dark forest of moral and social bankruptcy, a condition inevitably requiring major social and spiritual surgery to fix."

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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