17 Mar 2005

Polling stations open to commoners in Tonga general election

8:31 am on 17 March 2005

People in Tonga have begun casting their votes to elect nine members of parliament.

A record 60 candidates are vying to become MPs, with two Cabinet positions up for grabs.

Last night candidates were queuing up at local television stations to make final pitches for votes.

The election supervisor Pita Vuki says a greater awareness about politics in Tonga has led to a record 65,000 people registering to vote.

Mr Vuki describes the election as akin to a religious event, with many Tongans in their Sunday attire and some saying a prayer before casting their ballot.

The parliament in Tonga has 30 seats and is made up of nine members elected by the nobility, nine elected by ordinary voters and the 12-person cabinet which is controlled by the monarch.

The nobility yesterday elected four new colleagues to their nine-strong group of representatives.