Tonga ministers quit amid standoff with powerful monarch

Crisis erupted last month after King Tupou VI abruptly withdrew “confidence and consent” for three ministries.

Tonga's king at his coronation. He is with his queen. They are wearing ceremonial robes and crowns
King Tupou VI, with Queen Nanasipau'u, after he was formally crowned in 2015 [File: Mary Lyn Fonua/AFP]

Some of Tonga’s top ministers have announced their resignations after a months-long constitutional crisis with the Pacific island nation’s powerful king.

Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni told parliament on Thursday that he would give up the role of defence minister, while Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu, one of his key allies, would resign her ministerial roles for foreign affairs and tourism, conceding to the demands of King Tupou VI.

Sovaleni has reportedly recommended that Crown Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala, a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, be appointed minister of defence and foreign affairs in their place, Radio New Zealand reported.

Tonga has been a constitutional democracy since the late 19th century, and the monarchy relinquished more power in democratic reforms in 2010.

Earlier this year, however, the king abruptly withdrew “confidence and consent” for appointments to three key ministries without explaining why.

Malakai Koloamatangi, a political scientist at the University of Fiji, told the AFP news agency that the crisis should be seen as part of long-running unreconciled tensions “between the position of the monarch and parliament executive”.

Initially, the prime minister refused to entertain the king’s demands, and legal advice from Tonga’s attorney general claimed the king’s move was unconstitutional.

The prime minister’s about-face followed fierce debates in parliament and after he denied allegations of insulting the king.

An official announcement on the cabinet reshuffle is expected to be made later on Thursday.

Tonga is an archipelago that is home to about 100,000 people.

The United States opened an embassy in Nuku’alofa last May, amid growing competition with China for influence in the Pacific islands.

Source: AFP, Al Jazeera