28 Aug 2017

Tongan government in caretaker role after sudden dissolution

3:26 pm on 28 August 2017

The present government of Tonga is to remain in a caretaker role until an early election can be held

King Tupou VI dissolved the country's parliament on Thursday and called for elections a year early in an effective vote of no confidence in Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva.

The government said the country would continue to function as normal and it would continue in an interim role until the elections, set down for 16 November.

Democratic Party leader Akilisi Pohiva.

Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva will remain in the role for several more weeks. Photo: RNZ / John Barr

Mr Pohiva's cabinet met at the weekend, before a brief statement was read on public radio. It provided no reaction to the decision, except to say that the administration of government services would continue.

Reports from Tonga said Mr Pohiva had described the move to dissolve the parliament as part of a failed coup.

Mr Pohiva told New Zealand's Newshub the move was an organised attempt to push him out.

He said he was never informed of the decision and that the way it occurred could be illegal.

Newshub reported Mr Pohiva learned of the king's decision to dissolve the parliament on social media.

Mr Pohiva had originally planned to retire after one term, but now said he will stand again in the November election.

Meanwhile, Tonga's attorney general says the country is ticking along as normal, despite the King's decision.

'Aminiasi Kefu said the prime minister and cabinet remained in a caretaker mode, and the public service will continue to function normally.

However, he said the situation was testing.

"Oh it's groundbreaking, definitely, quite profound for a sleepy small island country but there's never a dull moment in Tonga and I'm just glad that the machinery of government continues. This is obviously a testing of the constitutional provision, this is the first time that his majesty has used his personal prerogative power to dissolve parliament."

'Aminiasi Kefu says the King's decision is final, and the constitution provides no right of appeal should Mr Pohiva feel aggrieved.

NZ sends troops home

The New Zealand government decided to send home a group of New Zealand SAS troops currently in Tonga for a training exercise.

Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee said having New Zealand troops there on a military training exercise could be perceived the wrong way.

King Tupou VI commissions the MV Maui

King Tupou VI commissions the MV Maui Photo: Tonga Govt

Mr Brownlee said the decision to dissolve a democratically-elected parliament was a significant event and New Zealand officials were monitoring the situation closely.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs