|Revolutionary graffiti from the political riot in Tonga|
The long fight for democracy in Tonga has recently exploded into mass protest and the burning down of 80% of the capital Nuku’alofa. The cause was a rejection of the latest proposals for democratic reform agreed to by the King and Prime Minister, being rejected at the last minute. Responding to the government’s calls, Australia and New Zealand had sent troops and police to enforce a state of emergency. Revolutionaries must demand the immediate withdrawal of these troops, and call for the immediate convening of a Constituent Assembly based on one person, one vote!
One year ago a prolonged public employees (PSA) strike led a renewed protest against the semi-feudal regime in Tonga. This regime based on a Royal family which owns the land and most of the businesses in Tonga, acts as the agents for monopoly corporations in Tonga. !% of the population dominates the economy and the rest are deprived of property and forced to live in extreme hardship. Tonga has been struggling to hold its economic position. GDP stands at T$361 million, with GDP per capita, totalling T$2936 with GDP growth at 1.6%. It exports US$13.9 million per annum and imports US$82.9 million per year. Its main exports are fish, squash and vanilla, main imports are food, animals, beverages and tobacco. (see Class Struggle #63 Sept/Oct 2005).
The PSA strike was settled by promises that more MPs would be elected by the people instead of being appointed by the King. A report that recommended that the majority of MPs would be directly elected by the people was agreed to by the new King this year, and was expected to be passed before Parliament rose last week. When parliament rose without passing the reform elements of the pro-democracy rally outside parliament rioted and burned and trashed the PM’s office and other public buildings and the businesses and property of the Royal Family and their commercial allies. Unfortunately six youths who were trapped in store-room were killed in the fire.
The parliament immediately called an emergency Cabinet meeting and passed the reform that would see the number of MPs in the 32 seat house elected by the people increased from nine to twenty-one by 2008. But this decision did not reach the angry protestors who continued on their organised attack on the hated symbols of the rich ruling class in Tonga.
The response of the King was not to apologise for delaying the reforms and inciting the peoples’ anger, but to blame the democracy movement for ‘shaming’ Tonga. He imposed a state of emergency and is threatening severe punishment for those convicted of ‘riot’ and ‘arson’. To enforce the state of emergency (which gives the police the power to ban meetings of more than five people, arrest suspects, impose curfews etc.) the regime asked the Australian and New Zealand governments to send troops and police. Currently Australia has 50 troops and 35 police and NZ has 72 troops and 65 police. The NZ government claims that the troops and police are there to ‘keep the peace’. The NZ Greens have objected to their presence as support the Monarchy.
Many Tongan’s (many of whom are living in New Zealand as citizens or long term residents) have backed the King against the ‘violence’, but another large section which comprises the broad pro-democracy movement rejects the foreign troops being used to prop up the regime and suppress the democracy movement. Some have called for the troops to get out while others want the foreign troops to be ‘neutral’ peacekeepers.
The fact is that even if the reform is introduced in 2008, a majority of MPs elected by ‘commoners’ does not give the people control of the government. The demand of the longstanding leader of the pro-democracy movement is for all MPs to be elected by the people, and for the Prime Minister and Cabinet to be elected by the MPs. It has taken a long strike and the burning of downtown Nuku’alofa to get even the most modest of reforms accepted by the Monarchy. The danger now is that the Monarchy will dig in and use the excuse of a ‘failed state’ to enlist the long-term intervention of Australia and New Zealand in a RAMSI-type regime to keep the people down and monopolise Tonga’s resources for the imperialist interests.
The response of revolutionary internationalists must be to fight for democratic reforms, always warning that they will never be granted by the reactionary regime whose interests are to ally with imperialism. In NZ and Australia support for the pro-democracy movement must be built in the labour movement. Many Tongan workers in NZ are the backbone of the unions and supporters of the Labour Government. Our program must be:
Australian and NZ troops out! Reject any label of ‘failed state’ and the permanent intervention of ANZ military and police.
Campaign for democracy in the Tongan army to split the rank and file from the Monarchy!
For a Constituent Assembly based on one person one vote, regardless of class, status or gender!
For the re-nationalisation of public assets in Tonga, without compensation to the Monarchy or the imperialists!
For a Government of the workers and farmers of Tonga, as part of a Pacific Federation of Socialist Republics!
From Class Struggle 69 Oct/Nov 2006