Commentary: How can we make our democratic reform work?


By Kalafi Moala


There have been three successive governments, each with its own different Prime Minister since the 2010 democratic reform to our governance structure. But as the current administration approaches re-election toward the end of the year, most Tongans everywhere are asking the key question as to why the new system of reform does not seem to work?

Despite all the talk about good governance, transparency, accountability, and simple commonsense honesty, the local population seems to be experiencing everything else except what have been enunciated by political leaders for more than 10 years now.

It does not take much observation and analysis to determine that there was greater political stability, better services provided, more competent leadership, and certainly more satisfying social outcome prior to 2010.

It looks like most of the politicians elected to be in Parliament are there not so much to see what can be done collectively (and sacrificially) to build the nation into a stable, safe, and flourishing community – but to facilitate for themselves the best they could receive in terms of financial benefits as well as to achieve their own special elevated social status.

What we are realizing in hindsight is that we can reform the existing system every which way, and still produce no satisfying results. We need a reformed people to run a reformed system.

Reforming of lives

The reform (or change) that must take place is that which must take place in the lives of people – spiritual and social; and especially in the lives of those who aspire to be leaders.

Therefore, the reform brought about during the reign of King George Tupou I was different. It was primarily a spiritual and social reformation that reconstructed the whole of Tongan society. It has worked and lasted for over 170 years.

There was a clear Biblical mandate that the king, chiefs, and people of Tonga adhered to. They consented to a transformation of life personally, and this personal transformation was to impact every aspect of their lives socially, economically, and politically.

When they set up their rule of law, their educational institutions, the judiciary, and Parliament, they followed Biblical principles. Family life and structure was also altered to follow Biblical teaching. Polygamy, for example, was ruled out and those who had many wives, chose to keep only one.

George V’s reform which was driven by an activist grass-roots movement lacked participation and direct help from spiritual leaders, as opposed to George I’s reform that had active participation and consultation with the missionaries. One reform was fundamentally spiritual that impacted the political; the 2010 was primarily political that had negative impact on the spiritual.

Most of the pro-democracy advisors and activists that contributed to the shaping of the 2010 reform were not only Marxist and humanistic in their outlook and view of society but lacked the spirituality that the first movement had. Participation by some clergy did not mean there was any spiritual input into the latter movement. In fact, it was entirely political, and true to the nature of politics, it became a social tug-of-war (and still is) for power among more than a couple of interest groups.

A good structure in ill hands can do no good

There was a stark difference between King George 1’s reform and that which followed in 2010. King George 1 himself was not only an astute political leader, but also a man of God who knew that Tonga’s future as a nation would need to be centered in God if there was to be hope in finding solutions to her problems.

But in the 2010 reform, a Constitutional and Electoral Commission was appointed by Tonga’s Parliament to advise on what and how reform was to be brought about. The five commissioners were appointed based on their perceived expertise in constitutional law, as well as their expertise based on their knowledge and understanding of Tongan society.  No consideration was given to their spirituality, which was the basis of the advisors of the first reform of King George I’s era.

Authors McDowell and Beliles (1995:5) bring up an important point: “It is not enough to set up external structures, even if they have worked in other nations and have been part of the best and most free government in history. We must remember that good structures are not enough because the best government in ill hands can do nothing great or good.”

It puzzles me how much celebration there is of King George I’s reform going on today, yet in practice we continue to move in a direction so opposed to the reform he brought about.

It is no wonder we have an epidemic of corruption in government and in our society, and the problems of drugs, domestic violence, and dishonesty in public service so rampant. We celebrate the past with words only yet practice the lifestyle that offends the very memory of the wisdom and practicality of our forefathers.

Foundation of true reform

The foundation of true reformation in any society is Biblical truth, but that Biblical truth must find its primary application to individual lives before it becomes manifest in corporate society.

“These principles,” write McDowell and Beliles, “must be part of the lives of people of any nation desiring freedom and prosperity, for after all, it is men who cause governments to run.”

Whenever a governance system revolves around man and his needs as the center, it is inevitable that sooner or later the state becomes supreme and replaces God as the Almighty. People start looking at the state to meet their needs, and consequently the state or government bears responsibility for every need and demand of its citizens.

Man ends up being ruled from the outside, rather than being internally self-ruled according to the principles of the Living God.

Man in his selfishness becomes god to himself, and thus man rises demanding freedom or liberty without responsibility. When that happens, there is anarchy, providing the opportunity for tyranny to step in. This is a cycle that happens too often in the history of man.

But history has also taught us that in cases and situations when man seeks to be self-determining under God, and to live under God’s laws and morality based on His nature and character, there is peace, prosperity, creativity, and wholesome development of society.

We had high hope in the latter reform that took place in Tonga. But that hope was not in God, but rather in man and a system that would satisfy our illusions about human rights and equality. We had hopes of moving forward to become a happier and more prosperous people without God.

Israel went through the same thing, demanding a government that would be like all other nations. That is, after they had been under the leadership of the Almighty God with His prophets and priests, under a well-defined rule of law. But despite that, they wanted their system reformed.

McDowell and Beliles point out the weakness in this: “Unfortunately the change they chose was to demand a change in government structure, instead of recognizing that the problem was one of spirit and of internal character rather than of the letter of the law.”

It is quite interesting that the two main groups of special interests competing for the political rulership of Tonga are basically the same in their fundamental beliefs. They each believe in their own human ability to move Tonga to peace and prosperity, “their way.”

One group (or party) believes the reason the reform has not worked is because they need “more reform.” Again, they believe it is the system that is the problem, not them, despite the fact they had 5 years governing the country and failed miserably.

The other group who is in government, believes they are “God’s chosen” to rule. But they believe so much in themselves, they have become pre-occupied in elevating themselves above the King and even God Himself. Yet, corruption has broken loose in their midst, and are alleged to be worse in governance than the previous lot.

There is a fundamental similarity in the two main political groups. They are both confident in their own human ability, even when it is failing them publicly. They are not interested in any change to their internal lives. They are only interested in propagation of themselves and would use God only as a name to help them win support from people who are like them.

Such are the issues we are needing to deal with as we approach the 2021 Parliamentary election in November.


  1. Taha e me’a ‘oku mahino mei hotau tukufakaholo fk-Kalisitiane ‘oku ‘ikai lava ke mavae e “lotu mo e ngaue” pe ko e “lotu mo e sosaieti” Senesi 1:28. Fk’ofo’ofa e langa ‘o e ngaue fkpolitikale pea ‘oku ngaue he ‘oku ‘i ai e liliu. Ko e kole, ‘omi malohi mu’a e maama ‘o e lotu mo e ivi ‘o e Tohitapu ke hulu’aki e fononga fkpolitikale he ta’u ‘e 10 ka hokomai. Lahi e longo, pea tuhu e siakale ko ee ki he siakale ko ee, takitaha nofo hono siakale. ‘Oku fiema’u ha Sione ‘Amanaki Havea mo ha Patelesio Finau ko e fonua. He ka ‘ikai, ‘e ‘ai ai ‘etau fononga fkpo’uli mo e ‘ikai ke tau fononga mo e ‘Otua.


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