Friday, November 17, 2006

Tonga: Rioting for democracy

For the past year, protestors have been camped out outside the Tongan Parliament in Nuku'alofa demanding democratic reform. Today, the Tongan Parliament rebuffed them, refusing to vote on the issue before the end of the Parliamentary term. So, they rioted, trashing government offices and shops, overturning cars, and setting fire to buildings. While royal-owned property (notably Shoreline Power, the electricity monopoly looted by the king) has been specifically targeted, so have a lot of other businesses, and there now seems to be general looting. So far, no-one seems to have been hurt - but an awful lot of people are going to be a lot poorer in the morning, and not all of them will be nobles. That's the problem with rioting for democracy: even if you think its morally acceptable to burn out the king and his fellow kleptocrats, a lot of innocent bystanders get hurt in the process. And then, if you win, you have to sit down across the table from them the day after and try and make things work again.

The obvious question is whether this is a one-off riot or the start of a more general attempt to oust the king by force. I guess we'll find out over the next few days. But either way, things haven't got off to a very good start. OTOH, it's also a strong signal to the monarchy: whether its done the hard way or the easy way, change is coming.