Pacific Media Watch

24 March 2012

TONGA: Young leaders vital to carry Tongan reforms forward, says Maka

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Tonga's late King George Tupou V at his coronation in Nuku'alofa. Photo: Taimi Media Network

Jessi Mee

AUCKLAND (Pacific Scoop / Pacific Media Watch): Tonga needs to identify young leaders to carry on the kingdom’s political reforms into the future, says an Auckland-based community leader.

Tongan Advisory Council chairman Melino Maka said today King George Tupou V’s unexpected death last Sunday left uncertainty about the reforms.

Good leadership was essential for development – both economically and politically, he told a media conference at AUT University.

“We need to identify young leaders who can carry Tonga into the future.”

King George Tupou V relinquished much of his power in 2010, placing more political control in the hands of the elected government.

Strengthened economy
Because of this power shift away from the monarch, Maka said it was “critical” that political leaders emerged who would help move the country further towards democracy and economic stability.

Maka said a strengthening of the economy should be the number one goal the government was working towards.

“The economy is like the air that you breathe, if you suffocate it then you will die,” he said.

Maka said that unless the economy was strengthened many of Tonga’s educated students would be forced to leave the country.

“If the economy has had no growth, then the prospect of having a job is not there.”

Since the elections in 2010, Maka said the Tongan King had become more of a figurehead.

“The king will always be the head of the state but he is a figurehead…the actual running of the country relies on the Prime Minister and Parliament.”

Leadership ‘shortcomings’
The young brother of the late king, Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka Ata, is set to be the new King.

Maka hopes the new King will be able to prove himself to the Tongan people after his “shortcomings” as Prime Minister.

“The challenge for him is to win back the trust of his people,” he said.

“We hope that he will carry on the legacy his brother left and learn from the mistakes he did in his past.”

AUT University Pacific studies lecturer Dr Teena Brown Pulu said the role of the king, who has “great social influence”, was still significant in Tonga.

“The relationship between the King and the Premier is fundamental to making good governance work.”

Political ideals
Brown Pulu says there was concern the new king might not value the same political ideals as King George Tupou V.

“Some argue that the incoming monarch may not be as committed or supportive of democratic and economic reform as his older brother.  Therefore, democracy may dissipate where a return to an insular and backward-looking system of power could eventuate.”

Dr Brown Pulu said Tonga was the youngest democracy in the South Pacific Islands and as such still needed people who had vision to move it forward.

“This is a vulnerable time for Tonga.  Politically, the state is fragile and having teething problems figuring out how systematic governance is organised by a democratic arrangement.”

Dr Brown Pulu said Tonga was desperately in need of strong leaders to emerge.

“There is a dearth of strong and stable political leadership in Tonga, not singly on the part of government but also in the opposition party.  Members of the opposition in Parliament are large in number but have barely raised informed and forward-thinking debate on critical issues relevant to progressing economic and social life.”

Dr Brown Pulu said that unless these leaders emerged, King George Tupou V’s vision of Tonga as a democratic state would not be reached.

“If the political environment neglects to raise young upcoming leaders then democratic reform has not eventuated.”

Jessi Mee is a final year journalism major on the Bachelor of Communication Studies programme at AUT University.

Jessi Mee

PMC reporter

Jessi Mee is a final year Bachelor of Communication Studies student majoring in journalism at AUT University and a Pacific Media Centre volunteer.