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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Maganti Tonga, Jan. 7) - Tonga's Prince Tu'ipelehake, in an unprecedented move by a member of the Tongan Royal Family, has called on the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, to use his influence to pressure the Tongan government to further democratise its Constitutional Monarchy system of government.

Prince Tu'ipelehake, a parliamentarian, is a nephew of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV.

In a letter dated December 17 to Downer, who was visiting Tonga December 16-18, the prince said he was certain that with the encouragement from the Australian government and other governments in the Commonwealth, the Tongan government may be persuaded to implement some necessarypolitical reforms.

Prince Tu'ipelehake said he wanted to see a balanced representation in the Tongan parliament.

At the moment, the Tongan Parliament is composed of 12 Cabinet Ministers who are appointed by the King, nine Noble's Representatives who are elected by the 33 hereditary noble title holders, and nine people's representatives who are elected by the rest of the population of about 100,000. The prince is the Nobles number one representative for Ha'apai to the legislature, and a Chairman of the Whole House Committee.

Prince Tu'ipelehake expressed a sense of frustration, which he said was shared by many Tongans over the ignoring by government of an urgent need for a political reform.

"There has been absolutely no move to implement, let along investigate, what and how these political reforms would eventuate," he said, while stressing that he would like to see Tonga seek its own form of democracy within the current system.

Instead, government had introduced an Economic Reform program, which he said was ineffective because a political reform needed to be in place to control the economic reform.

"Some people may say that we need economic reforms before we have any form of political reforms but I am convinced the two need to complement each other."

He said that amidst the economic hardship currently being experienced by the country, many Tongans, both in Tonga and overseas, were disheartened by the decision by government to amend article 7 of the Constitution, and the introduction of the Media Operators and Newspaper Acts, which, "are seen by most Tongans as an obstacle to their liberty; their right to write, speak and express themselves.

"There is a great sadness in the hearts of most Tongans, not only because the economy is deteriorating, their basic rights have been restricted but, also the realisation that their government does not respect their will and aspirations," he said.

He told Downer that many Tongans are not happy with the unilateral decision by the king for government to fund the Royal Tongan Airlines despite professional reports against it and the opposition of the Tongan Parliament.

He went on to express his disappointment with the decision by government awarding public funds to a proposed private venture, the 'Unuaki 'o Tonga Royal Institute, of which the king is patron and his daughter Princess Pilolelvu Tuita is chairperson.

Prince Tu'ipelehake said that the issues that he raised should have been dealt with by the Tongan Parliament, but parliament was ineffective because of the imbalance in representation. He was certain that with the encouragement from the Australian government and the governments in the Commonwealth, the Tongan government may be persuaded to implement the necessary political reforms.

January 8, 2004

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