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Tonga's new king has controversial past

Thursday 22 Mar 2012 9:40 a.m.

King Tupou VI

King Tupou VI

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By Monique Fischer

Chairman of the Tongan Advisory Council Melino Maka says the newly-appointed King of Tonga’s biggest challenge will be to win back the trust of his people.

At a press conference at Auckland University of Technology yesterday, Mr Maka spoke out about King Tupou VI’s past as Prime Minister, saying he hoped he had learnt from his mistakes.

“Leadership is what is missing in Tonga, to give its own people a better life,” says Mr Maka.

The new king served a controversial six years as Prime Minister from 2000, before resigning abruptly in 2006, following bad economic decisions under his reign that cost the nation millions of dollars.

 “Usually the Prime Minister is there for life," says Mr Maka. "The late king saw he was doing a bad job and after an in-house discussion they decided he should step down.

“He can’t afford to make the same mistakes. There’s no second chance.”

With Tonga’s government teetering on the edge of economic default, concern has been raised about the capabilities of the new king.

Mr Maka says the economy should be Tonga’s prime issue, but fears the new king “could decide to take back all powers his brother relinquished”.

The late king was instrumental to democratic reforms in Tonga, moving Tonga from royal control to democracy.

Senior lecturer of Pacific Studies at Auckland University Dr Steven Ratuva says King Tupou VI is well-educated, but agrees he needs to win the hearts of his people.

“People’s reaction to his rule will depend very much on how he responds to crisis situations as well as a stabilising force at a time when the country’s economy and political governance is going through great challenges,” says Dr Ratuva.

Monique Fischer is a journalism student at Auckland University of Technology.

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