New Tongan PM names his cabinet


The King of Tonga, King Taufa'ahau Tupou V

Tonga’s new prime minister has named his cabinet, the first line-up of ministers since democratic elections last month saw the South Pacific nation’s king give up his long-standing power to appoint government officials.

Prime minister Lord Tu’ivakano’s team included two unelected ministers and two politicians from the main pro-democracy party, including its leader Akalisi Pohiva, a 30-year veteran of the fight for greater democracy in the impoverished kingdom.

Mr Tu’ivakano said the cabinet would give representation to all of the country’s 100,000 people. “I think they should be happy about that,” he told New Zealand’s National Radio. “At the end of the day I have to look (for) a good calibre of people who will support what I am trying to do and I can work comfortably with.”

As required by Tongan law, one of the country’s 32 landowning nobles was named minister of lands. The country’s aristocratic families own all land in the archipelago.

Tonga has been ruled by monarchs for centuries, but its islands were only unified under a single king in 1845.

The country has moved slowly toward a more democratic political system in recent years, though many Tongans remain frustrated at the pace of the reforms and the parlous state of the economy.

The World Bank estimates up to 40% of Tongans live in poverty.

Since 1875 the king had used his power to appoint the premier and cabinet ministers, partially reducing it in recent years.

After the 2006 death of King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV – one of the world’s longest-serving monarchs – his son and successor King George Tupou V took steps to cede power. Unrest in 2007 sparked by the slowness of reform left the centre of the capital Nuku’alofa in flames.

Mr Tu’ivakano replaced Feleti Sevele as prime minister on December 21. Mr Sevele was the first commoner to serve as Tongan prime minister, but did not seek re-election in last month’s vote.

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