Tonga to spark discussions before elections
The 'Festival of Democracy' conference next week expects to spark discussions on the issue in light of Tonga's election later this year.
Locals in Tonga are hopeful that this year's elections will further strengthen the establishment of democracy.
The country is the only monarchy in the Pacific since Taufa'ahau King George declared it a constitutional monarchy in 1875.
Indira Moala reports.
The implementation of a partial democratic government in Tonga which still shares governance with the monarchy and nobility has been a significant journey for the country.
The push for democracy in Tonga goes back two generations and legislation passed in 2008 allowed nearly two thirds of the parliament's seats to be elected by the people.
But Dr Malakai Koloamatangi, Director for Pasifika studies at New Zealand's Massey University, says the country still has a long way to go.
MALAKAI KOLOAMATANGI: We need to be patient, we need to give it a little bit of time. We have to establish and consolidate democracy. We have to get used to the ideas about representation. We have to get used to ideas about freedom and we have to get used to ideas about equal rights. For example, the rights of women to be represented in parliament. So these things we have to learn. One of the first things about democracy in the west is that the government has to be secular. It's very difficult to democratize a Christian system. It has to be secular and it has to be blind in terms of culture and ethnicity and that kind of thing. I think we are a long way from that.
Dr Malakai will be speaking at the 'Festival of Democracy', a 10-day conference which will be held in Tonga this week.
The conference will address ideas of democratic change as the country approaches new elections in November.
The Dean at Tonga's Atenisi University, Dr Opeti Taliai, says people's value for tradition is what challenges the idea of democracy in Tonga.
OPETI TALIAI: Tradition is still very strong here in Tonga. You know, a lot of people talking about the Chief, the nobles, the king. There's still that pride from the people. But at the same time, they try to catch up with the world. You know, go along with the developments. So when you look at the situation like that in here in Tonga. That's what comes out so clearly, a kind of contradiction. People holding on to tradition and at the same time wanting to have change.
Mele Tu'ilotolava Taliai, a lawyer in New Zealand who helped organise the Festival of Democracy, says the poor representation of women in Tonga's parliament remains a concern.
MELE TU'ILOTOLAVA TALIA: That is a mystery you know when we consider that we had a very strong monarch with the late Queen Salote and indeed we know that we have many many successful women who are leaders in the community. The Tongan culture places women in very high places of privilege. And I know that some academics will say that they are in fact the stronger of the two genders because of that fact - the Fahu system. We need to actually change the way that people perceive women and currently we are the Fahu. We are certainly not the leaders in any real powerful arena like Parliament.
The Fahu system involves a dignified rank which places Paternal aunts in the highest place of honour in a family. This week's 'Festival of Democracy' conference will feature guest speakers from around the world and will be held at Atenisi Institute.
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