Thursday, July 02, 2015

A step backwards for Tonga's democracy

Over the past five years, Tonga has gradually democratised, reforming its Parliament to increase the proportion of elected MPs, and removing unelected Ministers. It seemed like it was on the path to democratic government, where power is exercised by those elected by and accountable to the people, rather than an unelected elite who regard voters as "dirt-eaters". Not any more. Because the unelected monarch and his unelected cronies have just decided to overrule the people's elected government:

The Tonga Privy Council says the Government's plan to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is unconstitutional.

King Tupou VI, with his Privy Council, was responding to petitions from groups in Tonga who have sought his help to stop the ratification process.

The reason it is "unconstitutional"? Because "the Council has not authorised ministers to sign the document". In other words, because the unelected king doesn't like it.

The ratification of CEDAW is a controversial issue in Tonga, thanks to religious organisations who oppose women's rights (and use the prospect of gay rights to whip up fear). The government will no doubt be held accountable at the ballot box for its decision, and that is right and proper in a democracy. But this monarchical fiat isn't, and its unquestionably a step backwards for Tonga's democracy.

As for the government's options, the UK Parliament ended such interventions by their monarch by the threat of cutting off their money (and ultimately, the implied threat that they'd end up like Charles I or James II: executed or exiled). Maybe its time Tonga's Parliament did the same.