4 Nov 2013

Time could be running out for Tonga reforms ahead of 2014 poll

5:44 pm on 4 November 2013

An academic says democracy proponents in Tonga have probably left it too late to push for more reforms ahead of elections due in a year's time.

The Democratic Party's effort to have the prime minister elected by the people was defeated recently but it is also planning a private member's bill early next year to have the people elect the nobles' representatives.

The director of the Pasifika Centre at New Zealand's Massey University, Dr Malakai Koloamatangi, told Don Wiseman the Democrats may have run out of time to effect a change in this term.

MALAKAI KOLOAMATANGI: It's probably too late now to create anything that would have an impact on the election or something in place in time for the election. I think it's too late. I think mid-term would have been a better time to have this. The idea of electing the prime minister and also the people electing global representatives in parliament are ideas that have been around for quite some time, even before the 2010 elections. So they're not new ideas, but I think what's happening is that some elements in the pro-democracy movement, certainly sections of the population, are hankering after more reforms and they probably think this is a good time to have it, particularly close to the election. But whilst it is a good campaigning technique or electioneering technique, it's not a realistic expectation to have these institutionalised before the election on 2014.

DON WISEMAN: Are these concepts that would grab the people? Would they be keen on these sorts of moves?

MK: Yes, it's very interesting. I think these ideas are quite popular ideas, I would think. But there's also a qualification. When the consultations were held on constitutional and electoral reform it was very, very clear that people wanted to keep the shape of the monarchy and also the nobility. That's very clear. People still want nobles in parliament. However, it's very clever to counter that. There's this proposal to have the nobles elected by people so that they're accountable to the people and not to the nobles or to the nobility itself. So that's an interesting twist on an idea that is popular with the country. It's democratising the nobility, in other words.

DW: And I guess eventually they're going to say, well, it's time for the nobility to step out of the Legislative Assembly.

MK: That's right. Again, it's a long-standing issue and of course it was touted before that maybe there should be a House of Lords type institution for the nobles to be housed in and for the people to be in a House of Commons type arrangement. But then again that idea was shelved because of the costs involved. But that's where this is heading, I think.