Tongans want greater democracy, government commission finds

Tongans want their near-feudal kingdom to become a democracy, Parliament was told Wednesday in a report expected to precede sweeping political reform in the South Pacific country.

While Tongans want the monarchy to remain sacred and the nation's nobles to retain their hereditary titles, "at the same time they want the people to elect all members of Parliament," said Sitiveni Halapua, chairman of the National Committee for Political Reform.

Under Toga's current constitution, the king appoints the prime minister and Cabinet and approves nobles to fill 23 of Parliament's 32 seats. Voters elect just nine lawmakers.

Halapua was presenting the first part of the committee's report after several months of consultation with Tongans on their aspirations for political, economic and social reform.

The work comes amid rising pressure for reform in the impoverished country, including strikes by thousands of public servants that paralyzed the capital last year.

The report comes less than a month after the death of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, who ruled for 41 years and began cautious moves toward reforms, but who also became increasingly autocratic in his final years, reports AP.

Tonga's new king, Siaosi Tupou V, gave strong backing to the committee's work when he was the Crown Prince. Most Tongans believe the report will help initiate reforms in their homeland.