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Elections in Tonga

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Elections in Tonga

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This article has not yet been updated to reflect the democratic reforms implemented in 2010.

Politics of Tonga takes place in a framework of a constitutional monarchy, whereby the King is the Head of State and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Tonga's Prime Minister is currently appointed by the King from among the members of Parliament after having won the support of a majority of its members. Executive power is vested in the Cabinet of Ministers. Legislative power is vested in the King in Parliament, and judicial power is vested in the supreme court.

Political conditions

For most of the 20th century Tonga was quiet, inward-looking, and somewhat isolated from developments elsewhere in the world. Tonga's complex social structure is essentially broken into three tiers: the king, the nobles, and the commoners. Between the nobles and commoners are Matapule, sometimes called "talking chiefs," who are associated with the king or a noble and who may or may not hold estates. Obligations and responsibilities are reciprocal, and although the nobility are able to extract favors from people living on their estates, they likewise must extend favors to their people. Status and rank play a powerful role in personal relationships, even within families.

Tongans are beginning to confront the problem of how to preserve their cultural identity and traditions in the wake of the increasing impact of Western technology and culture. Migration and the gradual monetization of the economy have led to the breakdown of the traditional extended family. Some of the poor, once supported by the extended family, are now being left without visible means of support.

Educational opportunities for young commoners have advanced, and their increasing political awareness has stimulated some dissent against the nobility system. In addition, the rapidly increasing population is already too great to provide the constitutionally mandated 8.25 acre (33,000 m²) api for each male at age 16. In mid-1982, population density was 134 persons per square kilometer. Because of these factors, there is considerable pressure to move to the Kingdom's only urban center.

In the March 2002 election, seven of nine popularly elected representatives were chosen under the pro-democratic banner with the remaining two representing "traditionalist" values. The nine nobles and all the cabinet ministers that sit in the Legislative Assembly generally support the government. Tonga does not rate as an "electoral democracy" under the criteria of Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2006 report. This is likely because while elections exist, they can only elect nine of 30 Legislative Assembly seats, the remainder being selected either by the nobility or the government; as such the people have a voice in but no control over the government.

In 2003, the Taimi 'o Tonga (Tongan Times), a newspaper published in New Zealand in the Tongan language that had been critical of the government was prohibited from distribution in Tonga due to government objections to its political content. After the newspaper obtained two court orders, it was again distributed freely. A Media Operators Bill and constitutional amendment, intended to restrict media freedom in Tonga, was hotly debated in 2003. The legislation allowed the government to exert control over coverage of "cultural" and "moral" issues, ban publications it deemed offensive, and ban foreign ownership of the media. In October 2003, thousands of Tongans marched peacefully through the streets of the capital city Nukuʻalofa in an unprecedented demonstration against the government's plans to limit media freedom. Despite the protests, the Media Operators Bill and constitutional amendment passed the Legislature and as of December 2003 needed only the King's signature to become law.

By February 2004, the amendment was passed and licensure of news media was required. Those papers denied licenses under the new act included the Taimi 'o Tonga (Tongan Times), the Kele'a and the Matangi Tonga, while those permitted licenses were uniformly church based or pro-government. Further opposition to government action included calls by the Tu'i Pelehake (a prince, nephew of the King and elected member of parliament) for Australia and other nations to pressure the Tongan government to democratize the electoral system, and a legal writ calling for a judicial investigation of the bill. The latter was supported by some 160 people, including 7 of the 9 elected "People's Representatives".

In 2005 the government spent several weeks negotiating with striking civil service workers before reaching a settlement. A constitutional commission met in 2005-2006 to study proposals to update the constitution. A copy of the commission's report was presented to the late king, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, shortly before his death in September 2006 and is currently under study by the present king, George Tupou V, and members of parliament.

The Tongan Speaker of the House was found to be guilty of bribery.[1]

Prime Minister Prince Lavaka Ata 'Ulukalala resigned suddenly on 11 February 2006, and also gave up his other cabinet portfolios. He was replaced by the elected Minister of Labour, Dr. Feleti Sevele.

The public expected democratic changes from the new monarch. On November 16, 2006,

On 29 May 2008, in the speech from the throne at the opening of Parliament, Princess Regent, Salote Mafile'o Pilolevu Tuita announced that the government would introduce a political reform bill by June 2008, and that the current term of Parliament would be the last one under the current constitution[3]

Relinquishing the monarch's powers

In July 2008, three days before his coronation, King George Tupou V announced that he would relinquish most of his power and be guided by his Prime Minister's recommendations on most matters.[4]


Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
King Tupou VI 18 March 2012
Prime Minister Sialeʻataongo Tuʻivakanō Independent 22 December 2010

Its executive includes the prime minister and the cabinet, which becomes the Privy Council when presided over by the monarch. In intervals between legislative sessions, the Privy Council makes ordinances, which become law if confirmed by the legislature. The monarch is hereditary, the prime minister and deputy prime minister are appointed for life by the monarch, the Cabinet is appointed by the monarch.


The Legislative Assembly is composed of the representatives of the Nobles, the representatives of the people and the members of Cabinet. This composition is established by Article 59 of the Constitution as amended by the " Constitution of Tonga amendment Act 2010 "[5] Article 51 of the same Act allows the PM to nominate and the King to appoint up to 4 extra cabinet members from outside the Assembly.

The current composition is:

  • 9 Nobles
  • 17 people's Reps
  • 2 extra members from outside the assembly

Political parties and elections

The electoral system was changed in April 2010, with 17 of 26 representatives now directly elected.[6]

2010 General election

Template:Tongan general election, 2010

Past elections


Below is a list of recent by-elections:

Election Date Reason Winner
Tongatapu 9 by-election, 2011 15 September 2011 Death of Kaveinga Fa’anunu Falisi Tupou (DPFI)


Tonga's court system consists of the Court of Appeal (Privy Council), the Supreme Court, the Magistrates' Court, and the Land Court. Judges are appointed by the monarch.

The judiciary is headed by a Chief Justice. The current Chief Justice is Michael Dishington Scott.

Administrative divisions

Tonga is divided in three island groups; Ha'apai, Tongatapu, Vava'u. The only form of local government is through town and district officials who have been popularly elected since 1965. The town official represents the central government in the villages, the district official has authority over a group of villages.

See also


External links

  • Adam Carr's Election Archive
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