King of Tonga Dying

On Tuesday, Tonga's prime minister appeared on local television and radio to alert Tongans to the fact that their king, High Royal Highness King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, is on his deathbed at a New Zealand hospital. Tongans were asked to pray for the 88-year-old monarch, who has ruled Tonga absolutely since 1967.

Tonga is one of the last Pacific countries without even the pretense of democracy. Only nine of the 30 members of parliament are elected by the people. The rest - including the prime minister and his cabinet - are cronies appointed by the king and the 33 Nobles of the Realm. A strong pro-democracy movement exists in Tonga, and things are sure to heat up as soon as the old autocrat passes on.

That isn't likely to effect tourists directly, but anyone considering a visit to Tonga over the next few months should be aware that a prolonged period of mourning will follow the king's death. If you've ever spent a Sunday in Nuku'alofa, you'll know what to expect. Streets empty, businesses closed, nothing moving, churches full. Not a good time to be there....

<< Home