Wednesday 24 January 2018

Lord Tu'ivakano voted Tonga's first democratically-elected PM

Bonnie Malkin

A member of the Tongan nobility has defeated pro-democracy leader Akalisi Pohiva to become the Pacific nation's first prime minister to be elected by parliament rather than being installed by the king.

After a month of alliance building and negotiating, Lord Tu'ivakano, a former speaker of parliament and minister for education, won 14 votes in a secret ballot of the 26 members of the Tongan house of representatives.

Mr Pohiva, a long-serving politician who has been jailed in the past for his pro-democracy activities, was initially expected to take power. However, after a member of his party defected to become an independent, he won just 12 votes.

The loss is a blow to the country's pro-decomcracy movement and to hopes that the country's first democratic elections would lead to a shift in the base of power from the nobility to ordinary citizens.

Before the elections, Tonga had been ruled by monarchs for centuries.

Under Tonga's new constitution, voters directly elected 17 seats in parliament, while nine seats are reserved for nobles, including Lord Tu'ivakano.

Previously, the tiny kingdom was run by a parliament dominated by a clique of nobles selected by the king, who also chose the prime minister and cabinet.

The historic November election came about after pro-democracy riots in 2007 which left eight people dead and large parts of the capital burned to the ground.

Since the unrest, the country has moved slowly toward a more democratic political system, though many Tongans remain frustrated at the pace of the reforms and the state of the economy.

The World Bank estimates up to 40pc Tongans live in poverty.

Lord Tu'ivakano, 58, will be sworn in by King George Tupou V, who remains head of state, on Wednesday.

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