21 Nov 2006

Tongan government reaffirms reform commitment

3:14 pm on 21 November 2006

The Tongan government has dismissed suggestions that it might renege on a deal to bring greater democracy to the country in time for the 2008 elections.

In the midst of last Thursday's turmoil in Nuku'alofa a meeting involving the prime minister, Dr Feleti Sevele, most of the cabinet, and people's and nobles' representative agreed on sweeping changes.

The leading pro-democracy MP, Akilisi Pohiva, says he has been told of one local interview given by the prime minister that he had been forced to sign the agreement.

But the prime minister's spokesman, Lopeti Senituli, says while the change still needs the ratification of the assembly, it's very clear what was agreed.

"The people will elect 21 representatives, the nobles will elect nine representatives at the next elections in 2008, and the size of the House will be limited to 30 - that was the agreement."

Meanwhile, members of the Tongan business community say the riots were the result of business rivalry and not pro-democracy activists.

Mary Fonua, whose publishing company was destroyed, says there's a group of people who engineered this and she knows who they are.

She has described the riots as business rivalry, involving people who are likely to be rival candidates in the next election and also between Tongan and Chinese businessmen..