Symposium provides platform for unity in Tonga

A symposium designed to spark meaningful dialogue around Tonga’s fledgling democracy provided a successful platform for unity.



The Talanga Fakafonua ‘i he Temokalati or National Dialogue on Democracy, organised by Massey University’s Pasifika Directorate, was held in Tonga last week giving all sides of the political spectrum a unique opportunity to come together.


Tonga’s political situation has been tense since King George Tupou VI dissolved Parliament in August forcing a snap election to be held later this month.


Massey’s Pasifika Director Associate Professor Dr Malakai Koloamatangi says the University’s neutrality and education focus meant the symposium was able to attract all levels of Tongan society including nobility, politicians, non-government organisations, and even those not on speaking terms.


“At the beginning the tone of the dialogue was very sharp - there was the odd shouting match. But by Friday, arch enemies were sitting together talking quietly and to me that was the mark of the symposium’s success.”


The Tongan Royal family were represented by Princess Salote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tuita who opened the event and key speakers included the Speaker of Parliament, Lord Tu'ivakano and the caretaker Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva.



There was a visible police presence to ensure discussions didn’t boil over but Dr Koloamatangi says discussions around security highlighted the community’s desire never to see a repeat of the riots of 2006 that left eight dead and Nuku’alofa’s business district in flames.


He believes the symposium was able to release rising tensions by giving people the opportunity to air their views safely.


The series of panel discussions on areas such as democracy, the constitution, the economy and security allowed for a wide-ranging discussion and from it Massey University is now tasked with providing a summary of the issues raised that can be used by the future government as a yard stick to measure its progress.


“The issues raised include things like sustainable growth, climate change and a need for more unity.”


Dr Koloamatangi says it was very clear the style of democracy emerging in Tonga would be unique to the Kingdom and strongly rooted in Tongan culture.


“I was surprised by the depth of feeling that Tongan democracy shouldn’t look like New Zealand, Australian or even British democracy and while people want something based on Tongan culture we still have to flesh out exactly what that might look like.”


Dr Koloamatangi says Massey University has been asked to continue developing civic education around democracy and a pilot programme for schools is being investigated.


He says plans are already underway to hold the symposium again next year to ensure the progress made, continues well into Tonga’s future.