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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 748 sq km (464 sq mi)
Population: 101,991 (2006 Census)
Capital city: Nuku'alofa
People: Polynesian, Europeans
Languages: Tongan, English
Religions: Christian
Currency: Pa'anga
Major political parties: There are no major political parties in Tonga. Of the nine seats for People's Representative in parliament, the Human Rights and Democratic Movement have 4, Independents 3 and the People's Democratic Party 2.
Government: Unicameral Legislative Assembly or Fale Alea (32 seats - 14 reserved for cabinet ministers sitting ex officio, nine for nobles selected by the country's 33 nobles, and nine elected by popular vote; members serve three-year terms.)
Head of State: King George TUPOU V (since 11 September 2006)
Prime Minister: Dr Feleti Vakauta SEVELE (since 11 February 2006)
Cabinet: Cabinet consists of 14 members, 10 appointed by the monarch for life, four appointed from among elected members of the Legislative Assembly, including two each from the nobles' and peoples' representatives serving three year terms.
Foreign Minister: vacant
Membership of international groups/ organisations: Commonwealth, Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Group of 77 at the United Nations (G77), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), ICRM, International Development Association(IDA), International Fund for Agricultural Development(IFAD), International Finance Corporation (IFC), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS), International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Interpol, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), ITU, ITUC, OPCW, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIF), South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement (SPARTECA), Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), United Nations (UN), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Universal Postal Union (UPU), WCO, World Health Organisation (WHO), World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), World Trade Organisation (WTO)

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ECONOMY

Basic economic facts

GDP (purchasing power parity): US$549.1 million (2008 est.)
GDP -real growth rate: 1.2% (2008 est.)Annual Inflation:) 6.4% (Dec 2008)
Major industries: tourism, construction, fishing
Major trading partners: Japan, US, NZ, Australia, Fiji
As at December 2008 the rate of inflation continued to decline from 12.6% in May 2008 to 6.4%. Inflation is forecast to continue falling due to reduction in international fuel prices and favourable exchange rates reducing the cost of imported food. Local inflation now exceeds imported inflation for the first time since June 2007.

Remittances recovered from a sharp decline in November to the highest single month ever recorded (an increase of 72%).

After a period of decline, the fishing industry had a productive quarter with an increase in weight caught. This increase provided some encouraging news against what has generally been a poor year for the primary sector. Even with the number of fishing vessels continuing to decline from a year ago, the total catch increased by 80% from November 2008 and a 10% increase over the same time in December 2007.

Reserve Bank of Tonga projections forecast that Tonga will experience price deflation from March 2009 and this will continue until the beginning of 2010, duration and effects depending upon international currency movements.

Foreign reserves have remained steady throughout the last quarter of 2008.

The Government's fiscal performance showed a surplus of T$0.87 million Pa'anga for the month of December, compared to a surplus of $7.5 million Pa'anga in December 2007. Donor grants comprise 32% of revenue for the year. Around 86% of Tonga's revenue is received from taxes. Total expenditure and net lending to November 2008 was $92.8 million Pa'anga. Public debt remains substantively unchanged at 35.9% of GDP. Of total debt, external debit is $188.28 million Pa'anga and domestic debt is $24.41 million Pa'anga.

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HISTORY

Recent history

King George Tupou V acceded to the throne on 11 September 2006. His Majesty’s Coronation was held on 1st August 2008.

Longer historical perspective

King George Tupou I (1845-1893) founded the present royal dynasty. It was mainly due to his enlightened rule that Tonga did not become a colony of one of the European powers during the nineteenth century. This remarkable King quelled civil war in order to establish a united Tonga under the rule of law. The Constitution he enacted on 4 November 1875 guaranteed the right to life, property and equality before the law and freedom of expression in perpetuity. It also institutionalised a parliament with representatives of both the chiefs and commoners.

Between 1855-1886 treaties were signed with France, Germany, Britain and the United States recognising Tonga's independence. Under the 1900 Treaty of Amity (and the 1905 amendment) Britain guaranteed Tonga's independence and protection from foreign aggression while Tonga agreed to allow Britain to exercise responsibility for Tonga's foreign policy and defence.

King George Tupou II came to the throne on the death of his great grandfather in 1893. He died in 1918, aged 45. His daughter, Salote, then 18, succeeded him. Queen Salote is probably best remembered outside Tonga for her attendance at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London in 1953. Her son, King Tupou IV re-established Tonga's full independence on 4 June 1970 under a Treaty ending British responsibility for Tonga's external affairs and defence. Tonga was admitted into the Commonwealth shortly thereafter. King Tupou IV died on 10 September 2006 aged 88 after a long illness.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Tonga's relations with its neighbours

Tonga is an active and long-standing member of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Tonga's relations with the international community

Tonga has been one of the most proactive small states in the Pacific. It was quick to give support to the Coalition of the Willing, sending troops to Iraq, has passed and implemented Counter-Terrorism Committee and shipping legislation and sent troops to the Solomon Islands in support of RAMSI. Tonga is an active member of the UN and of the Commonwealth.

Tonga's relations with the UK

Tonga's relations with the UK are excellent. The two Royal Families have maintained close connections over the years.

Diplomatic representation

British High Commissioner to Tonga resides in Fiji. The New Zealand High Commission in Tonga provides routine consular services for British nationals. Dr Sione Ngongo Kioa is the Tongan High Commissioner in London.

Visits

TRH The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester attended the Coronation of King George Tupou V in August 2008. HM The King of Tonga visited the UK in December 2007. The Prime Minister of Tonga visited London in 2008.

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GEOGRAPHY

The Kingdom of Tonga comprises 170 islands (of which 36 are inhabited) scattered over 360,000 sq km of the Pacific Ocean. Most of the islands have a limestone base formed by uplifted coral. The majority of the population live on Tongatapu where the capital, Nuku'alofa, is situated. The climate is tropical, with a warm season from December to May and a cooler season from June to November. Natural hazards include cyclones (November to April), earthquakes and occasional offshore volcanic activity.

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POLITICS

Tonga is a constitutional monarchy. The King retains considerable power and has been closely involved in recent modest political reforms. The unicameral Legislative Assembly, or parliament, has 18 elected members – nine nobles' representatives and nine people's representatives. Elections are held triennially, the most recent General Election was held on 24 April 2008. The Ministers, who are appointed by the King, also become Assembly members. The King also selects 2 MPs and 2 Nobles to become Cabinet Ministers and their vacated seats are filled by a by-election which follows the general election. The house usually sits between May and November. While offering a useful focal point for the opposition to air their views, the occasions on which they succeed in shaping government decisions have been limited.

Recent political developments

In 2005 the National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga on Political Reform (NCPR) was established by the Legislative Assembly of Tonga to consider submissions, hold consultations, and facilitate talanoa (dialogue or conversation) relating to political and constitutional reforms. It was asked to recommend legislative or other changes to build national unity and promote the social and economic advancement of the people of Tonga. The Committee was formally endorsed by King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV in August 2005 and its report was presented to cabinet in August 2006.

Following discussions in cabinet the report was presented to the Legislative Assembly and debated extensively between October and November 2006. While much of the report was accepted by both the Government and the Pro-Democracy Movement, a stand-off emerged over precisely how many seats would be for elected representatives and those reserved for nobles in a reformed Legislative Assembly.

On 16 November 2006 a political rally turned violent when it appeared that the Government would not accept opposition demands. Subsequent rioting and looting resulted in six deaths and 80% of the central business district was burnt down. A number of People’s Representatives were charged with offences linked to the rioting.

Since November 2006 the King and Government of Tonga have continued to state their support for political reform. A tripartite committee consisting of nobles, ministers and people’s representatives was established in June 2007 and tasked to find a consensus on political reform and to make recommendations to parliament. The committee was able to agree on a number of issues, including allocation of seats in a new legislature: 17 elected members, 9 nobles elected by their peers, with the King electing two governors and two ministers. Other unresolved issues meant that elections in 2008 were conducted under existing electoral legislation with only nine people's Representatives elected by popular vote: it is anticipated that 2010 will see a more competitive election where the majority of representatives are elected by the people.

Tonga’s 2008 General Election was therefore seen as a vote on the popularity of the pro-democracy movement. The majority of incumbent MPs were returned, including four who face charges for sedition related to events around the riots of November 2006. In June 2008 the new Parliament took a first step towards reform ahead of the 2010 election and introduced a Bill to establish a new Political Reform Commission tasked to make recommendations for change and to report to Parliament before the end of 2008. Parliament and the Cabinet have since appointed a candidate to the Commission; the Judiciary Services Commission has also appointed two. Members of the Commission cannot be serving members of the legislative assembly, cabinet or the Judiciary Services Commission.

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Tonga's record as regards human rights has been viewed as good. Tonga became the first Pacific Island country to take part in the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process in May 2008. The United Nations Universal Periodic Review Working Group adopted Tonga’s Report on the 19 May 2008, in which Tonga committed itself to accede to core human rights conventions and treaties.

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Last Updated: July 2010

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