7 Sep 2004

Referendum call in Tonga amid leadership problems

3:59 pm on 7 September 2004

The peoples' representatives in Tonga have grouped together to campaign for a referendum in the Kingdom.

A pro-democracy MP, Akilisi Pohiva, says they are calling for a referendum to see whether they want the right to elect all 30 members of parliament and not only nine as they do now.

Mr Pohiva says the King could then appoint his cabinet out the elected members.

He says the time is ideal for a referendum.

"There is a crisis within the government. There is a split between the members of the royal family. That's how we look at it from outside. Not only that, but there is also a division between the prime minister and his ministers that has led to the dismissal of the three ministers. So there is a very serious crisis in the country at the moment."

So far eight of the nine peoples' representatives have signed the parliamentary petition calling for the referendum.

Meanwhile, a Tongan academic in New Zealand says there appears that the King has no longer full control over the running of the day-to-day affairs.

Dr Malakai Koloamatangi of Canterbury University says any possible rifts may be masked.

I think it is understandable that the king would not want to present to the public or the international community that there is a rift between himself and other members of the royal family.