Tonga Has Been Without Resident National Leader For Weeks

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King Tupou VI, PM and Deputy PM out of the country

By Pesi Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Oct. 1, 2013) – Tonga has been left without a resident Head of State or a Prime Minister for weeks.

This situation unraveled itself this morning, Oct. 1, when the Speaker of the Tongan Parliament, Lord Fakafanua told Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, a Tongatapu People's Representative (PR), to stop referring to Lord Ma'afu, the Minister of Land, as Tonga's "Acting Prime Minister." He reminded him that the Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano was still in hospital, in New York.

Dr. Halapua insisted that the country could not be without a Prime Minister, and suggested: "there has to be a leader?"

Away

Tonga has been without a Prime Minister or a Head of States during the past weeks after King Tupou VI, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister left the country for various engagements overseas.

When Tonga introduced its supposedly more democratic system of government at the end of 2010, all members of parliament were elected -17 by the people and nine by the nobles. Previously, the People elected nine and the Nobles nine, but the King then appointed his Cabinet Ministers from whomever he thought could do the job. Before the reform of 2010, the King could also appoint Cabinet Ministers from elected PRs.

Traditionally whenever the Monarch left the country, there was always a "Prince Regent" or a "Princess Regent" to be the acting Head of State. The same was also applied to the position of a Prime Minister, there was always an "Acting Prime Minister."

On this occasion, after Lord Ma'afu informed parliament on Monday, 30 September, that the Prime Minister had "suffered a mild stroke" in New York, members of parliament began referring to him as the Acting Prime Minister. Lord Ma'afu is the most senior of the Cabinet Ministers who remain in the country.

[PIR editor’s note: Meanwhile, Matangi Tonga reports that Tu'ivakano, who remains in New York's Bellevue Hospital, is stable and expected to be discharged soon.]

Today, however, the Tongan Parliament - after discovering that the Tongan Law does not specify who should be Acting Prime Minister when both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are away overseas - decided to introduce a new title "Minister-in-charge."

Lord Ma'afu is now the Minister-in-charge of the Tonga Government.

After King George V gave his consent for the political reform and to transfer his executive power in council to Cabinet it became a practice for the king not to appoint a Prince Regent or Princess Regent while he was away overseas.

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