Tongan king dissolves parliament

Wednesday, October 16, 1996

By Norm Dixon

Tonga's absolute monarch, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, suddenly dissolved parliament after it voted on October 1 to impeach the minister of justice for corruption.

The move coincided with mounting local and international protests about the jailing on September 20 of two journalists, Taimi 'o Tonga editor Kalafi Moala and subeditor Filokalafi 'Akau'ola, and Tonga's leading democracy advocate and MP 'Akilisi Pohiva.

The three were jailed because details of the proposed impeachment motion were published in Taimi 'o Tonga before parliament had discussed them. Pohiva, who helped draft the motion, was accused of leaking it.

The 28-member Legislative Assembly is dominated by 19 unelected representatives of Tonga's noble families and has only nine elected people's representatives. All the people's representatives voted against the prison sentences.

Protests have flooded in from media and journalists' organisations around the Pacific and the world. Tonga's acting chief secretary, 'Esta Fusitu'a, described the deluge as "media terrorism".

On October 1, parliament voted to impeach Tevita Tupou for attending the Atlanta Olympics without leave and charging the expenses of the trip to the state. Tonga's cabinet ministers, most of whom are nobles, are appointed by the king. The king dissolved parliament on October 4.

Democracy supporters have interpreted the king's actions as an attempt by Tonga's aristocrats to cope with rising anger among Tongans at the jailings, as well as the rulers' refusal to permit greater democracy. The government has repeatedly tried to silence Pohiva and journalists who have exposed the lack of democracy and the corruption that is rife in the administration and parliament.