Friday, November 26, 2010

Democracy wins in Tonga

Yesterday, Tongans went to the polls in the first properly democratic elections their country has ever had. I was concerned, like many people, that the remaining undemocratic element in their Parliament - the nobles - would use their power to appoint an illegitimate Prime Minister to maintain the status quo. I needn't have been. According to Radio New Zealand, Akilisi Pohiva's Democratic Party has won 14 of the 17 people's seats, and an absolute majority in the Parliament. Pohiva looks likely to become the country's first democratically elected Prime Minister. As for the king's "wish" that the nobles appoint a "commoner" as Prime Minister, the people have made their own decision on the matter. They will rule in their own right, not by the grace and favour of their monarch.

Tonga still has a way to go on its path to democracy. The king must be disarmed, the noble seats abolished and the royal veto over legislation removed. But with an elected government with an overwhelming mandate, that will go much easier. The Tongan Parliament can simply use its control of the purse strings to extort the required concessions from the king - exactly as happened in the UK. The difference is that in Tonga, the process will go much faster, and take only a decade or so rather than two hundred years.