Matangi Tonga

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (July 18) - The sudden death of Prince Tu'ipelehake was a great loss to Tonga's political reform movement.

The prince was the one member of the Royal family who sincerely believed that only through dialogue might a solution be found to a growing political confrontation between the Tongan people and the Monarchy. Tensions are mounting with demands from the people that the kingship surrender its inherited absolute power to a parliament elected by the people.

Prince Tu'ipelehake's simple approach was to conduct "Talanoa" or informal meetings with Tongans locally and overseas to find out their true aspirations on such a complex transition of power, and the impact that it might have on the social, economic and political life of the country.

Just the thought that the Prince dwelled on such a possibility of the king surrendering his inherited absolute political power was enough to raise goose bumps on some true blue royalists, causing them to fiercely query the loyalty of the prince to the monarch.

The Prince, however, despite the considerable personal cost, was determined to take the middle ground to hold conflicting society together. He believed that the only way for Tonga to achieve a peaceful political transition of political power was to, firstly, ascertain that that was what the people really wanted.

The Prince's idea for the formation of a National Committee for Political Reform was accepted by the Tongan parliament, and it received the approval of the monarch and the financial support of overseas donor agencies. Interestingly, it still met fierce resistance from other political groups, and politicians who had been screaming for political reform for years.

The Prince's approach was unconfrontational and straightforward, in his adoption of a traditional Tongan approach called "Talanoa."

The "Talanoa" approach is not new to Tongans. It was revitalized by a Tongan scholar, Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, who has successfully used "Talanoa" to find solutions to political upheaval in Fiji and in the Solomon Islands. Halapua was made the deputy chairman of the National Committee for Political Reform (NCPR), which was chaired by Prince Tu'ipelehake.

[PIR editor’s note: Sitiven Halapua is director of the Pacific Islands Development Program at the East-West Center in Honolulu. The program, which conducts a broad range of activities aimed at helping Pacific island nations achieve their social and economic goals, produces the Pacific Islands Report. ]

The concept of "Talanoa" allows the people to freely express their views; there is no agenda to the meetings, and the committee members refrain from expressing their own views on any topics under discussion.

Prince Tu’ipelehake in one of his Press Conferences clarified the "Talanoa" approach when he responded to critics that his presence at any of these meetings would naturally influence the meeting, because he was a prince. Prince Tu'ipelehake said that there was a big difference between "Talanoa" and a Fono - the local meetings when chiefs or government officials inform people of what has to be done.

"If I was going there for a Fono, traditionally I don't have to say anything. The people would come and ask two questions. What do you want to have, and when do you want it? But this is not a Fono, we want you, the people to tell us what you want us to do, and not to have us telling you what we want you to do."

Undoubtedly, Prince Tu'ipelehake was on a peace mission, and may be the first martyr of this cause that he set-up for Tongans to complete.

July 19, 2006

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