King of Tonga Dies

His Royal Highness King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV passed away at an Auckland hospital late Sunday night at the age of 88. Tonga has now entered a official period of mourning which could last a year. Tongans have donned black clothing and gone to church, with public buildings draped in purple and black. Travelers heading for Tonga should expect disruptions to their plans with restaurants closed, tours and activities cancelled, and flights fully booked.

Tupou IV's eldest son, Crown Prince Tupouto'a, was sworn in as the new king on Monday. His full coronation will take place next year after the period of mourning is complete. The 57-year-old crown prince is a playboy bachelor who has amassed a considerable business empire in Tonga through insider connections. While in the shadow of his father, Tupouto'a showed far more interest in banking, brewing, fishing, electricity, telecommunications, insurance, and real estate than in government.

The campaign to establish a working democracy in Tonga is sure to heat up now that the autocratic old king is dead, and how King Tupouto'a handles the situation will determine whether the inevitable transition is peaceful or turbulent. Tonga is the South Pacific's last feudal monarchy with only nine of the 30 members of parliament elected by the people. The 21st century may finally be dawning in the land where time stands still.

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