Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tonga votes

Tongans go to the polls today in legislative elections. However, while they will be voting, it would be a stretch to call it "democracy", as the Tongan electoral system is stacked against the people. 68,000 "commoners" (who the aristocrats disdainfully refer to as "dirt-eaters") get to elect nine representatives. The 33 hereditary nobles also get to elect nine representatives - so their voices count for around 2,000 times as much as the people's, solely on the basis of birth. Finally, the King appoints the Prime Minister and 12 Cabinet Ministers, without any say by the people at all. The upshot is that the people of Tonga have no effective way of changing their government, and no way of removing politicians who are corrupt or incompetent. It's no wonder they resort to other means.

The good news is that this will be the last election held under the present system; next time the people will reportedly be allowed to elect a majority of the legislature. But while that will be a significant improvement, it will still be a long way from the democracy they deserve.

The other twist in today's election is the 2006 riots. Over half the incumbent candidates (all from the Human Rights and Democracy Movement) are still facing sedition charges over the riots, and this will be an opportunity for the people to judge them. However, if they are re-elected, they may still lose their seats if convicted - something which may in turn cause further trouble in future.

Results will be up on Matangi Tonga later this evening.