A Tongan Parliament

Historically, the Parliament that was opened on 16th September, 1875 to discuss the newly written constitution for the country seemed to have been ideated and modelled after the earlie Fakataha which has been a council of chiefs whose main task was to advise the king when he needed advice. Therefore, the Fakataha , met irregularly and it had nominal powers, if at all. It is also true that the idea of a Tongan parliament was not necessary for politial considerations such as members of parliament, as representatives of the chiefs and people, meeting regularly as an embodiment of the unity of the whole country. The creation of parliament, together with the constitution, was important also in order to safeguard Tonga's sovereignty. In this and in other matters, due credit must be given to Charles St Julian who was a law reporter for the Sysdney Morning Herald and Hawaiian Consul in Sydney, Australia. He, among other things, sent a copy of the Hawaiian Constitution of 1852 to King George Tupou I: its provisions, layout, text and so forth find corresponding similarities (in some cases, word for word) with the new Tongan Constitution.

The Original Parliament

The original parliament was composed of the: government - the premier, the treasure, minister for lands and minister for police; nine from Tonggo atapu, five from Ha'apai, four from Vava'u, one from and one from Niuafo'ou - who were appointed by the king for life; and twenty people's representatives elected along the same regional lines as nobles. They were elected by suffrage for a term of five years. The Speaker was appointed by the king. Parliament had the power to legislate, impeach, determine the amount of taxes, duties and licences; pass estimates of government expenditure; and discuss ammendments to the constitution except in areas where it did not have jurisdiction such as matters to do with succession to the throne. It also had some judicial responsibilities such as the right to determine the number of police courts and the frequency with which they could sit.

Society and Parliament

ne of the basic functions of modern parliaments is to ensure that societal interests and aspirations are integrated into its processes and considerations. This is done mainly through the idea and process of representation. Representation is one of the cornerstones of all parliamentary democracies. Put simply, representation is the aggregation of the electorate's interests which is represented by its election of a representative to speak and act on its behalf in particular against, and in collaboration with, other representatives of other electorates.

The Constitution in context

It is most likely the case that this kind of relationship between modern societies and their parliaments did not exist in 1875 Tonga. Although the population was quite small by modern standards, around 20,000, other factors made it difficult for people to understand or contribute to the creation of the constitution and parliament.

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