Pacific News Minute: Tonga Reform: Democracy or “Power Grab”?

May 23, 2017

Coat of Arms of Tonga
Credit Wikimedia Commons

In Tonga, a constitutional amendment proposes to transfer more power from the King to the Prime Minister. Democratic reform, according to its supporters; critics call it a power grab. More from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.


Over the past ten years, Polynesia’s only monarchy has voluntarily ceded power to the elected government, but the King and the Privy Council still retain the power to name senior officials including the police commissioner and the attorney general. The amendment proposed by Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva would transfer those appointments to the government. 


 Former Justice Minister Clive Edwards told Radio New Zealand International that the issue wasn’t democracy, but power. “They want control and they want absolute power,” he said, “All under the control of the prime minister.”


Prime Minister Pohiva has also been criticized for a purge at the state broadcaster, the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, or TBC, which he described as an “enemy of the government.” “Radio Tonga and Television Tonga’s main role is best to facilitate government,” he said, “That doesn’t mean that government stops TBC from criticizing government, but it must…do it in a way that is not malicious.”


With that, the prime minister forced the Chair of the TBC to resign and fired the general manager.


In a letter to the King, Paul Thompson, President of an international association of Public Broadcasters called the Public Media Alliance, described the dismissals as “unfortunate.”


“I call on everyone to take a breath and just make sure they protect and enhance the editorial independence of the broadcaster.”