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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tonga must not lose sight of democracy

In the painful aftermath of the recent deaths of Tonga's King Tupou IV and Prince Tu'ipelehake, it is crucial that their vision for the South Pacific island nation's future be remembered and carried out.

During this emotional time of mourning, Tonga must not lose sight of the gains made along the path toward democracy by the king and the prince. When King Tupou IV, Tonga's ruler for the past 41 years, died last week, the country was still in an official state of mourning for the death of Prince Tu'ipelehake, who was killed in a car accident in California in July.

The people of Tonga credited King Tupou IV for being the "founder of modern Tonga," while Prince Tu'ipelehake was seen as a key figure in working toward reforming the country's absolute monarchy into a democracy. Such a move makes sense in modern Tonga, a nation of 114,000 where the royal family's luxurious lifestyle is a stark contrast to the extreme poverty of the country and its people.

Now it's up to Crown Prince Tupouto, who has taken over the throne as King Siaosi Tupou V, to lead in the spirit of King Tupou IV and Prince Tu'ipelehake.

Initial indications are promising.

The new king has shown an interest in economic and democratic reform. Oxford-educated, Tupou V was the country's foreign and defense minister and developed the country's defense force. During the illness of his father, Tupou V is said to have been actively involved in following his father's reform ideas. Last week, he began divesting his commercial interests in the country.

More important for the future, Tupou V has supported the National Committee on Political Reform, a group set to issue recommendations by the end of the month for democratic changes.

It is entirely appropriate that Tonga mourn the loss of King Tupou IV and Prince Tu'ipelehake. Ensuring their pro-democracy movement endures would indeed be a fitting legacy.

Correction: King Tupou IV, the Tongan king who died last week, ascended to the throne in 1965 and headed his country for the past 41 years. A previous version of this editorial incorrectly stated the duration of his rule.