You’d be hard placed to sell Tonga as a believable fictional scenario. An over-populated and under-resourced Polynesian island kingdom presided over by an absolute monarch who combines the strategic skills of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria with the physique of an aging sumo wrestler. Three of his four children – his second son lives in exile in Honolulu as punishment for marrying a commoner – preside over the kingdom’s governance and financial affairs with the sort of all-consuming self-interest that makes the Suharto clan look like the Salvo’s.
The 30 member parliament includes the Prime Minister – currently HRH Prince Lavaka Ata, the King’s youngest son – and an 11 member cabinet, appointed solely by the King, who retain office for life or the King’s pleasure, whichever lasts longest. Nine members are elected by – and from – the 33 nobles with the remaining 9 elected by the remaining 100,000 Tongan voters. This arrangement is officially referred to as “constitutional monarchy” – and I’m Louis XVI.
Given that Tonga consists of a bunch of tiny islands that produce little other than emigrants – 50,000 Tongans live in NZ – coconuts, pigs and an extraordinary proliferation of churches, financial entrepreneurship opportunities are pretty limited. But absolute rule has it’s advantages.
The King has dabbled in everything from flogging off passports – Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were enthusiastic purchasers – to a scheme for importing used car tyres from the States for subsequent burning – he was persuaded not to proceed on the basis that tourists would be anticipating something more than noxious fumes. He recently hired an American health magnet salesman as Court Jester and financial advisor. In a clear confusion of roles, said worthy promptly lost 40 million dollars which the King had tucked away in a Bank of America account, rather than the Tongan treasury. When asked why this was so the King reportedly observed that his government would “only have spent it on roads and suchlike” had it been available to them. Quite.
He set up Tongasat – the Tongan satellite communications corporation – currently valued at around 25 million dollars. It’s a monopoly business presided over by his daughter Princess Pilolevu. Then there was the embarrassing flag of convenience stuff when it turned out that the Tongan flag was flying over everything from drug running to terrorist arms supply. The King’s response to this debacle was to hire a major American PR company to improve Tonga’s image. Their recommendations willl presumably not incorporate advice to the King to piss off and take his family with him.
The King is also currently in the process of amending the Tongan constitution to remove freedom of speech. This is because an irritating Tongan emigre keeps producing a paper titled Taimi o’ Tonga in Auckland and flying it to Tonga twice-weekly. This guy claims – outrageously – that the King is a clapped out old has-been in the thrall of his rapacious family and a bunch of nobles who
are bleeding Tonga dry. He urges democracy as a long overdue panacea.
The horrified parliament ordered that his paper be confiscated and banned henceforth, but the Chief Justice – some bleeding heart Brit – ruled this action unconstitutional. The King is thus arranging for the Constitution to be amended.
Main points are:
It prohibits laws or ordinances passed by the King, or any other matter specified by law, from being subject to judicial review in court.
It prohibits freedom of speech or expression which infringes on the rights of others and cultural traditions, or violates public law and order and national security.
It allows Parliament to restrict free speech for many reasons including public interest, national security, public order and morality, and for the protection of the royal family
And we thought the Solomons had problems.