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University steps in to support Tongan democracy

University steps in to support Tongan democracy

Massey University is stepping in to support Tonga’s struggling democratic process. The University’s Pasifika Directorate is organising a symposium in Tonga this week to provide a forum for discussion three weeks out from the country’s snap election on November 16.

The election was forced after King George Tupou VI took the unprecedented step of dissolving Parliament in August with more than a year to run for the current government.

Massey’s Pasifika Director, Associate Professor Malakai Koloamatangi says Tonga is at a landmark juncture on the pathway to finding its own genuine democracy. “The coming election will be a litmus test to see if democracy is taking root in Tonga and we need to make sure the gains of the past are not jeopardised. We don’t want to see people lose faith or patience in the process.”

Dr Koloamatangi says while it is an unusual step for a University to take, Massey’s strategy pledges to enable capability development across the Pacific region, preparing citizens for the changing nature of work and society and he says this symposium is a clear demonstration of the strategy at work. “We cannot stand by and let democracy fail for lack of education and encouragement.”

Dr Kolamatangi says the Talanga Fakafonua ‘i he Temokalati: National Dialogue on Democracy symposium will provide a neutral forum for all sides to come together. Invitations to speak have been extended to the Royal Family, the Speaker of Parliament, Lord Tu'ivakano and the caretaker Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva.

The symposium will come almost 25 years to the day of the landmark 1992 Convention on the Tongan Constitution and Democracy that marked the inception of the prodemocracy movement. But Dr Kolamatangi says many of the issues raised back then are still unresolved today. “We still don’t see a formal process for political reform and my hope is that this symposium will help provide a clearer pathway forward.”

As a political scientist, Dr Koloamatangi is seen as an expert in Tongan politics having literally written the book on Tongan democracy after he was commissioned by the Tongan Government to provide a civic guide to the democratic process in 2014.

The three day Talanga Fakafonua ‘i he Temokalati: National Dialogue on Democracy symposium starts tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Fā’onelua Convention Centre, in Nuku’alofa.


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