Page last updated at 07:15 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Tonga contemplates historic shift

Tonga King George Tupou V on his coronation, 2 Aug 2008
Tonga's King George Tupou V is expected to accept the recommendations

A powerful committee in the South Pacific nation of Tonga has recommended that the power of the monarchy be largely dismantled.

Under the current system, King George Tupou V controls parliament with a team of hereditary aristocrats.

In a wide-ranging review, the committee recommended a fully elected parliament instead.

A BBC correspondent in the region says the king, who commissioned the review, is likely to support its proposals.

Historic change

The Polynesian nation - which lies between New Zealand and Hawaii - is made up of more than 170 islands spread over an area of the South Pacific roughly the size of Japan.

Oxford-educated King George Tupou V and a group of hereditary aristocrats control parliament, where less than a third of MPs are elected by the public.

According to the BBC correspondent in Sydney, Phil Mercer, the push for reform has been encouraged by the king, who has insisted that he is wholeheartedly committed to democratic government.

Many Tongans have been demanding a more inclusive political process.

Pro-democracy riots in November 2006 were followed by official assurances that islanders would be allowed a greater say in the running of their country.

Campaigners have urged the government to implement the reform proposals in full.

Teisina Fuko, a cabinet minister and president of the People's Democratic Party, says Tonga is ready to make the changes.

"It is a very new concept. However, there are (a) few parties that have been started informally, like the party that I am president of, the People's Democratic Party," he said.

"We have our own manifesto to be drawn for the next election, and we are going to run it as more like a party system like in other countries, like New Zealand and Australia," he said.

Reformers hope Tonga will be a constitutional monarchy by the time the country goes to polls towards the end of next year.

Critics have said that the absolute power of the king has hampered economic and social development in a nation which is dependent on foreign aid and remittances from Tongan communities overseas.

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