Matangi Tonga

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Sept. 27) – Following the success of the public servants strike and the people's first taste of political power, minority rule, which has been the tradition in Tonga's Constitutional Monarchy, is coming under great pressure to change to be in line with the aspirations of Tongans today for a more democratic form of government.

To remain as we are means living with a government that operates in isolation from its people, the workers, and the taxpayers.

The days when government leads and expects the people to follow, whether or not they understand the issues, are over. The people now demand that they must have their say and the right to choose before legislation or a plan is put into place.

A point of contention in the current talk about political reform is found in the various proposals for constitutional amendments and new models of government that are floating around.

Government in an effort to lead the way with regards to political reform, late last year announced that the king would appoint four new cabinet ministers, following the general election early this year. Two ministers were chosen from the nine People's Representatives and two from the Nobles' Representatives. Details of this approach, true to government's ways of doing things, unfolded as it progressed. For example, the "chosen ones" from the People's Representatives were told that they had to resign from being elected representatives of the people so that they could be appointed by the King as Cabinet Ministers.

Only yesterday, we discovered that the Minister of Forestry was appointed into a ministry that does not legally exist. A bill was presented into the House on September 26 for the establishment of a new Ministry of "Plants" so that the new minister could be given his vote from the current budget.

With the government's Economic, Public Sector and Political Reform Program being thoroughly thrashed during the past few months, the call by the people to put political reform first, is getting louder and louder, and political models have been presented by Lopeti Senituli and Clive Edwards.

To proceed from this point onward there are four important steps to be taken, with a lot of lobbying and political maneuvering in between.

The first step is to amend the Constitution, making it possible to change the system of government. But in order for this to happen the amendment must be passed three times with a majority in the House, and then with unanimous approval by both Cabinet and the Privy Council.

The second step is to have a referendum on whether we say yes or no for all members of parliament to be elected by the people, and for the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers to be selected from those elected members of parliament.

The third step is to select the model of government that we would like to have, from the one that government has already put in place or one of the models that have been publicised

The fourth step is to have an election.

September 28, 2005

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