The first European to visit Tonga was the Dutchman Jakob
Le Maire in 1616. James Cook came there in 1773 and named
the archipelago Friendly Islands. In 1845 they were
united into an independent kingdom. A friendship agreement
with the United Kingdom was established in 1900, and from
1905 Tonga was ruled as a British protectorate. June 1970
the archipelago became independent and a member of the
Commonwealth of Nations.
King Taufa'ahau Tupou 4 came to the throne in 1965 and
ruled almost unanimously until his death in 2006. A
pro-democracy reform movement was founded in 1992 and formed
in 1994 Tonga's first political party, the People's Party,
which has since been a leading party. However, most
representatives in the legislative assembly are appointed by
the king from the 33 noble families of the archipelago.
Since the 1990s, the monarchy and the privileges of the
nobility have been the subject of growing criticism. The
government is appointed by the king, and the ministers have
traditionally remained in their positions until they retire.
In 2005, elected ministers joined the government for the
first time. The pro-democrats demanded revision of the
constitution of 1875, including that the prime minister
should be elected. In 2006, Fred Sevele became the country's
first elected prime minister of non-noble burdens. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Tonga.
Throne change and reform course
The new King Siaosi Tupou 5 was crowned on August 1,
2008, followed by traditional celebrations for eight days to
end. With a royal proclamation, the monarch took a long step
away from the traditional monarchy of the South Pacific's
only kingdom. As part of an ongoing democratization process,
he promised to relinquish the monarch's almost absolute
power and renounce the right to appoint the country's prime
minister. In 2010, this right was transferred to parliament.
The prime minister could now choose his ministers without
royal interference, and the monarch was given mainly
representative and ceremonial duties.
The reforms came in the wake of Toga being shaken by the
most violent riots in recent times. It was the rage of the
crowd that for over a year Parliament had failed to decide
on a proposal for democratic reform. Most of the buildings
in the business district of the capital Nuku'alofa were
looted and set on fire. At least eight protesters died
during battles with police and military, and Australia and
New Zealand sent 150 policemen and soldiers to order the
The government partially rejected the protesters'
demands: In 2010, elections were held under a new
constitution, including a new electoral system which ensures
that a majority of parliamentarians should be elected.
Today, the elected representatives count 24 out of a total
of 33 parliamentarians. In the past, the king has appointed
15 of the representatives of the noble families of the
archipelago, while the nobility has appointed nine of its
Tonga gained a seat at the UN in 1999, and in 2005 joined
the World Trade Organization (WTO). A friendship agreement
with the United States of 1988 grants American naval
vessels, possibly with nuclear weapons, the right to travel
in Tonga's territorial waters. Tonga had 55 soldiers in Iraq
to support the United States, but the force was withdrawn in