What Type of Government Does Tonga Have?

The flag of Tonga.
The flag of Tonga.

Tonga is an independent state made of 170 islands scattered in the Pacific Ocean. It is officially known as the Kingdom of Tonga, and in the west the country is fondly referred to as the ‘Friendly Islands.' In ancient days, Tonga was ruled by chiefs. Tonga’s social structure was divided into three distinct groups: the king, who occupied the highest rank, nobles, and the commoners who held the lowest rank. At the start of the 20th century, Tonga entered into partnership with Britain when they signed a Treaty of Friendship on May 18, 1900. Under the agreement, Tonga received protection from Britain. The Kingdom of Tonga retained its sovereignty despite being a British protectorate. The Treaty of Friendship between Tonga and Britain came to an end in 1970. The Kingdom of Tonga is run under a constitutional monarchy, and is the only remaining monarchy in the Pacific region. As a constitutional monarchy, the king acts as the head of state and the chief commander of the armed forces.

Executive Branch of Government

The Executive arm of government in Tonga is a merger between the monarchy and the cabinet. The king runs the state, and the prime minister runs the government. The monarchy is exclusively comprised of nobles. Tonga’s prime minister and cabinet are appointed by the monarch. During a constitutional review process in 2009, recommendations were made to limit the powers of the monarch. The current king of Tonga, King George Tupou VI, ascended to the throne after his brother’s sudden death in March 2012. The current prime minister, Akilisi Pohiva, was the first commoner to hold the position of prime minister.

Legislative Branch of Government

The kingdom of Tonga is characterized by a unicameral parliamentary system, which has a single legislative chamber. The country held its first parliamentary elections in 2010. Previously, the legislature was mainly composed of nobles. After the 2010 general elections, the majority of the members of the legislature were elected by the public. Of the 26 members in the legislative assembly, 17 members were publicly elected, and nine members were appointed by the monarch. The members were elected for a three-year term.

Judicial Branch of Government

The judicial arm of government in Tonga is comprised of the court of appeal, the supreme court, magistrates' courts, and land courts. The court of appeal is the highest court. It is presided over by the court’s president, who is appointed by the king. The court’s judges are also appointed by the king. Judges nominated by the monarch must get approval from the national assembly. Disputes beyond the court of appeal are handled by the king, together with the privy council. Minor disputes are dealt with by the land courts.

Administrative Units

The Kingdom of Tonga is divided into five administrative units: Tongatapu, Vavaʻu, Haʻapai, ʻEua, and Niuas. Tongatapu is Tonga’s main island. It hosts 70 percent of Tongans. The mode of governance in Tonga is mostly centralized. Many administrative functions are done by the central government located in the main island of Tongatapu. The local administrative units are run by elected district officials, who are in charge of several villages.


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