Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tonga: Emasculating the monarchy

A year ago, the Tongan Parliament passed a bill establishing a Constitutional and Electoral Commission to consider constitutional reform. The Commission presented its final report on Friday, and recommended significant and progressive change. While Tonga will remain a constitutional monarchy, the monarch will be removed from government, his powers reduced to rubberstamping decisions made by the elected government and withholding assent or dissolving Parliament "as a safeguard". His executive body, the Privy Council, will be reduced to a costume drama, stripped of all powers. Actual decisions will be made by the Cabinet, drawn from and responsible to the elected legislature, led by a Prime Minister appointed on the advice of Parliament. In other words, responsible government, much as we have here.

There are still some relics of the ancien regime. While the number of People's Representatives will be almost doubled, to seventeen, the 33 nobles will still retain their 9 representatives - and thus vastly disproportionate power. The office of Speaker will be limited to a noble - it being apparently too elevated to be entrusted to a mere "dirt eater", regardless of merit. The Parliament will still be able to impeach its members - effectively allowing the government to overturn the results of any election it does not like. This unfinished constitutional business will eventually be dealt with, but the important battle has been won. And with a majority of People's Representatives and control of the finances, everything else can be gradually leveraged by financial blackmail, just as happened in the UK.

The big concern is whether there is enough time to pass all of this by the promised election date of November 2010. Its ambitious, but they should be able to do it. And if not, the plan is to focus on the electoral law (including a change to STV), and leave the final emasculation to the new, more democratic Parliament.

The full report can be accessed here. For some reason the single-file version doesn't work, but the individual sections are readable.