Tonga. In February, Tonga got its first non-noble prime minister, the people-elected former Labor and Trade Minister Feleti Sevele. According to CountryAAH, major public holidays in Tonga include Independence Day (June 4) and New Year (January 1). Crown Prince Tupouto’a, who reigned while the sick King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV was cared for abroad, was the one who deposed the Prime Minister’s Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata and replaced him with Sevele.
“Prince of the People”, Tu’ipelehake, died in July in a traffic accident in the United States. The reform-friendly prince was in California to discuss democracy reform with exiled tongues. The prince’s wife and driver were also killed in the accident. According to many observers, Tu’ipelehake was the only one in the royal family who could build bridges between different classes of society. The Prince had long advocated a democratization of the rule of government in Tonga, and reform work had begun to gain momentum following pro-democracy demonstrations in 2005.
King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV passed away in September, aged 88 years. He died at a hospital in New Zealand where he was cared for a few months for an unknown illness. The king had ruled Tonga for 41 years and although he was popular with the people he was a conservative and was considered to slow down democratic development. Thousands of Tongans as well as government officials from 30 countries attended the funeral and a month’s grief was announced. The king’s son, 58-year-old crown prince Tupouto’a Tungi, was installed on September 11 as a successor. The new king, Tupou V, is unmarried and has no children. He appointed his little brother Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata to the throne. Tupou V, who is much more positive about reforms than his father, promised to “accelerate change in response to the people’s desire for democracy”.
Just a month after the death of the old king, a government-appointed reform committee came up with a radical proposal. The Committee, formed after the demonstrations in 2005, recommended that all 32 MEPs should be elected in general elections. Today, the people elect only nine of the members, while the nobility nominates nine and the king fourteen. When the reform of democracy was not adopted by Parliament at the last session of the year, November 16, it led to violent demonstrations in the capital Nuku’alofa. Stores were looted, cars overturned and fires were set. At least eight people died and several buildings were destroyed, including the government office, the city’s only bank and a number of shops. An emergency was triggered and Tonga was reinforced by 150 soldiers from Australia and New Zealand to maintain calm.
The new king promised democratic elections in 2008 and major changes before that. Parliament rallied again on November 23 and adopted the electoral reform. The Prime Minister called the rattles ‘shameful’. According to the authorities, gangs were linked to pro-democracy groups that were behind the devastation and those killed were believed to belong to these gangs.