Thursday, November 25, 2010

Democracy comes to Tonga

Today is a historic day in Tonga. After over a century of autocratic rule, its toy Parliament is being transformed into a real one. For the first time, Tonga's people will elect a majority of seats, under democratic reforms passed earlier in the year. Which means that if all goes well, Tonga will finally have a government which can claim to be legitimate and have the consent of its people.

I say "if all goes well" because there is still a significant flaw in Tonga's new system. Tonga's hundred thousand people are represented by 17 People's Representatives, elected by FPP from territorial constituencies. But its 33 nobles are represented by 9 MPs. They already operate as a bloc, and there's a real danger that with the support of a handful of collaborators, they will be able to install one of their own as Prime Minister, perpetuating the illegitimate form of government these reforms were supposed to end. If that happens, then Tonga's democracy will be tarred as a sham from the outset.

Of course, even if the people win, there is still a long way to go. The noble seats must be removed, the royal veto ended, and the king disarmed so he can't just threaten to restore his rule by force of arms. In the UK, that process took hundreds of years. In Tonga, it will go faster. And today is hopefully the beginning of that process.