17 Nov 2006

Tonga's king backed reform a month ago but move was kept under wraps

2:18 pm on 17 November 2006

The King of Tonga backed sweeping political changes a month ago but this was not made public until rioting had taken hold in the capital yesterday afternoon.

The prime minister's advisor, Lopeti Senituli, says King George Tupou V accepted on October the 20th that 21 members of the legislature be elected by the people and the remaining nine elected from among the nobility.

He also agreed that the prime minister, whose appointment has been the prerogative of the King, will now be elected by the assembly.

These changes are to apply from the next scheduled elections in 2008.

Mr Senituli says this information wasn't made public because agreement still needed to be reached over the size of the assembly and the government had planned to put this to a tripartite committee.

"The people's representatives suggested 30, The national Committee for Political Reform proposed 26 and the government proposed 23 to 28. So the government's proposal was to set up a tripartite committee to come to an agreement concerning these figures but I must add very quickly here. We are not in a stage we are we are trying to put blame on anyone's shoulders. Our priority is to restore peace so that people can be secure."

Lopeti Senituli says prime minister Dr Feleti Sevele has asked for help from both Australia and New Zealand.

He says the details of what has been requested will be announced after a cabinet meeting this afternoon.