Former High Commissioner’s work highlights role of royal family in helping transition to democracy

Research by a former High Commissioner to Tonga says that King George V played a vital role in Tonga’s transition to democracy.

The work by New Zealand diplomat Christine Bogle, said strong leadership of the democratisation process by His Majesty greatly helped a successful transition to democracy.

She said monarchs who used their charisma to promote and lead a move to democracy were a critical factor in whether a transition was successful, while securing the future of the monarchy for their heirs.

Bogle, who was awarded her doctorate by Victoria University in Wellington, served as High Commissioner in Tonga from 2008-2010.

Her time in Tonga coincided with the kingdom’s first democratic election and a major reviews of the constitution.

She is in Nuku’alofa this week to make a presentation about her doctoral thesis, Democratisation in Asia – Pacific Monarchies. Her work looks at monarchies in Bhutan, Tonga, Nepal, and Thailand.

None of the countries studied was colonised, despite strong influence from western empires, particularly Great Britain.

She said Tonga and Bhutan succeeded in reforming their governments and introducing democracy, while Thailand and Nepal followed different paths.

In her work, Bogle noted the role of younger, western-educated members of the royal family, who pushed for change.

“A younger generation of royals, educated outside Tonga, were quietly thinking about how to modernise the monarchy and make Tonga more democratic,” she wrote.

“Crown Prince Tupouto’a (later King George V) did not enunciate these ideas publicly while his father was alive, but shared his thoughts with close friends.

“His cousin, Prince Tu’ipelehake, brought them to parliament, proposing a nationwide consultation on political reform, known as the National Committee for Political and Constitutional Reform (NCPR), which got underway in 2006, partly in response to a lengthy public service strike in 2005.

“Before this, in late 2004, Tupouto’a had persuaded his (elderly and unwell) father to bring four elected members of parliament – something unprecedented in Tonga.”

After serving in Tonga, Bogle was appointed as New Zealand’s Ambassador to Mexico. She also served as Ambassador to Spain and held postings in Lima and Rome.

Following her diplomatic career she became head of the International Secretariat of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.

The main points

  • Research by a former High Commissioner to Tonga says that King George V played a vital role in Tonga’s transition to democracy.
  • It said strong leadership of the democratisation process by His Majesty greatly helped a successful transition to democracy.

For more information

Former NZ diplomat presents thesis on monarchies moving to democracy in Tonga

Democratisation in Asia-Pacific monarchies: Drivers and impediments. A study of Bhutan, Tonga, Nepal and Thailand

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