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Tonga’s King George Tupou V is preparing to relinquish power as the country gears up for its first democratic elections, ending hundreds of years of feudal rule.
The government has published a new electoral roll and has called on the Pacific nation’s 101,900 citizens to add their names to the document so they can take part in the vote, which is due to be held on 25 November .
For the first time in the island's history, most MPs will be elected by the people.
The Tongan parliament is stacked with nobles, chiefs and supporters of the royal family, most of whom have been directly appointed by the eccentric monarch.
It will mean the Oxford-educated king, known for his love of travel and playboy lifestyle, will remain head of state but will lose his executive powers, including the ability to appoint the prime minister and ministers.
A bachelor, the 62-year-old king is widely believed to be looking forward to stepping out of the limelight so he can concentrate on his hobbies, which include sailing model boats on his swimming pool, dressing up in military uniform and playing computer games.
The king has never married and is often seen travelling around Tonga's main island, Tongatapu, in his London cab, dressed in a Savile Row suit despite the tropical weather.
The election is part of Tonga's transition from being one of the world’s last remaining sovereign monarchies, where the king almost single-handedly runs the daily business of government, to a constitutional monarchy.
In late 2006, anti-government riots in the capital, Nuku'alofa, left eight people dead and large parts of the town burnt to the ground.
The unrest forced the king's coronation to be delayed by two years, but even before he was crowned in a lavish ceremony in 2008, he had realised the tide of public opinion had turned against the monarchy and pledged to give up his family's constitutional right to rule.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister of Tonga, Dr Feleti a Sevele, said: “For us, it's an evolutionary process of democracy.”.
SOURCE: TELEGRAPH/THE AGE/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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