TONGA DEMOCRATIC REFORMS NOT FULLY IMPLEMENTED

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Some of commission’s recommendations rejected, other modified

By Pesi Fonua NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 17, 2010) - SINCE Tonga's Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission published its "Final Report and Recommendations" on November 5 last year, Tonga's parliament has been struggling to agree on a new system of government, expected to be in place before a General Election scheduled for November or December 2010.

When the debate concluded at 5 am on Friday December 18 before the Christmas break, the House had worked its way through the Commission's 82 Recommendations; and of these parliament had terminated 19, passed 18, and also passed 45 that the government amended.

In many ways the new system of government that was recommended by the Tongan Parliament on December 18, is definitely not the new and the more democratic system of government Tongans thought they were going to get.

The new system solidifies and confirms the existing social structure of Tonga.

While the king is expected to hand some of his executive power over to the new government, as head of state the king retains the power to rule the country. He can dismiss the government, veto laws and he runs the Defence Services.

The Nobles have consolidated their authority in parliament, by reaffirming that both the Speaker and his Deputy must be from their rank - and this is in spite the fact that recently, one of the problems with the Tongan parliament is that the Speaker, who traditionally has always been a Noble just could not keep the proceedings of the House in order.

The nobles also retain their nine seats in the House - the same number of seats they have now.

The House wants to increase the term of parliament from three to four years.

Tonga's new-look system of government will be something like this:

Following an election, the king will appoint an Acting Speaker from outside, who is not an elected member of parliament. The Acting Speaker is to oversee the selection by the 26 elected members of a Prime Minister. The King will appoint the PM, after that person is nominated by the House.

Following the appointment of a Prime Minister, the nine nobles will select a Speaker from among themselves, who would then be appointed by the king as the Speaker of the House. The king will also appoint a Deputy Speaker, an elected Noble's Representative who has been nominated by the Prime Minister with the approval of the House.

The Prime Minister then will proceed and select his ministers, which should not be more than half of the members of the House, excluding the Speaker. The Prime Minister, if needed may appoint four Cabinet Ministers from outside who are not elected members, but the total number of Cabinet Ministers should remain at not more than half of the total members of the House. The half will depend on the number of Cabinet Members that the Prime Minister will bring in from outside.

The term of the members in the House is four years.

Meanwhile, a Royal Constituency Boundaries commission was established on Friday, December 11 to settle the electoral boundaries for the 2010 elections, and it has been mandated to present a report to the king no later than June 30, 2010.

During the debate on the Commission's recommendations, parliament did make one significant transformation.

For the first time, the full parliamentary debates from November 17 to December 18 were broadcasted live on Radio Tonga AM, (and not just edited extracts) - becoming one of the most enlightening things that has ever happened to Tongan politics.

Live broadcasts are giving the public the opportunity to judge for themselves the abilities of their political leaders; to improve their understanding of the current system; and to hear for themselves whether or not any of their representatives and leaders has a clear vision of the future.

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