6 August 2003

Guardian Unlimited | Dark days ahead for Tongan press:
Dodgy goings-on of this sort are no longer a novelty in Tonga. The country is sometimes described as the world's last autocracy. Its 85-year-old king Taufa'ahau Tupou IV runs an administration peopled by his cronies: 12 of Tonga's 30 parliamentarians are directly appointed by him, and a further nine are nominated by a council of 33 hereditary nobles.

Six out of the nine MPs elected by Tonga's 58,000 ordinary voters are aligned with the human rights and democracy movement (HRDM), a faction committed to bringing democracy to the country; but they are worth nothing next to the 21 representatives of the ruling class.

This unbalanced polity makes for some questionable decision-making, and political mismanagement in Tonga is legendary. There was the scheme to sell passports to Chinese businessmen of questionable integrity, or the bizarre plan to sell life insurance to the terminally ill. The latter idea was cooked up by Jesse Bogdonoff, an American peddler of magnetic backache cures whom the king had made his official court jester. The irony of the appointment seems to have been lost on Tonga's royals.

The Tongan legislative assembly has just passed a bill which bans foreign media proprietors. The bill's target is a Tongan stripped of his citizenship by a recent act of the same assembly. Tonga was (naturally) a member of the coalition of the willing.

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