End to monarch rule with elections in Tonga
FOR 165 years, the South Pacific island nation of Tonga has been ruled by monarchs wielding near-absolute power.
Now, following its first democratic election, those powers have been drastically curtailed -- and no one is happier than the country's Oxford-educated king, George Tupou V. The king will play a largely ceremonial role following Thursday's poll.
And after pro-democracy forces won a landslide victory, Tonga looks set to acquire its first popularly elected prime minister -- a notion unthinkable even a couple of years ago.
The office is likely to be filled by Akilisi Pohiva, whose Friendly Islands Democratic Party won 12 of the 17 seats allocated to "people's representatives". During a 30-year struggle for democracy, Mr Pohiva was jailed by the king's late father, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, and charged with sedition.
Previous elections in Tonga were rather dull, with the monarch appointing the prime minister and cabinet. Nine seats are still ringfenced for "nobles" -- the descendants of 19th-century cannibal warlords -- but the balance has swung resoundingly towards "commoners".
The 100,000 inhabitants of Tonga's 169 islands (36 of them populated) clearly enjoyed their first taste of democracy. Turnout was nearly 90pc.
"We are now coming to the end of the old order," said Mr Pohiva, who confessed to feeling emotional after his "long walk" towards achieving his aims. "Now we are looking forward to meeting the new political era." (© Independent News Service)