Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dangerous radicals

Vernon Small is in Tonga at the moment covering the Pacific Forum, and today has an interesting post on the small pro-democracy protests happening outside the forum venue. The Tongan government has been trying to downplay the protests and present the protestors as dangerous radicals, but the truth is a little different:

when Tutone speaks it is not about wild revolution or even republicanism, but a constitutional monarchy for the Kingdom based on the Westminster system. He warns royalty can get out of touch with the people, and wonders why the people’s elected MPs have not been invited to the formalities at the forum.

What is needed, he says, is not revolution but “political renovations - leave the King in the salon”.

It says quite a lot about the attitudes of Tonga's ruling aristocracy that these views are considered dangerous and seditious. But then, that was exactly the attitude of Britain's aristocracy to the same views in the C19th, and they resorted to the same tactics in order to keep such views in check: censorship, arrests and sedition charges. Tonga is fortunate that its aristocrats haven't used the other tactic from Britain's past: massacre.

The cause of democracy in Tonga is one our government should be wholeheartedly supporting, but instead they are absolutely silent on it. We can help, by pressuring the kleptocrats towards change, and assisting with designing durable constitutional institutions, and we should help. Our refusal to not only betrays our democratic values; it also boosts the chances of change following a violent rather than a peacful path.