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TONGA: PRACTICE PARLIAMENT


PRACTICE PARLIAMENT 2014: A NEW ERA FOR THE WOMEN OF TONGA


As part of its vision of building a modern and more representative Parliament for the people of Tonga, the Practice Parliament for Women (PPW) was initiated to encourage women’s participation in Parliament. It was an initiative anticipated to inspire wider participation in the law-making process, and also geared to helping participants understand parliamentary processes. A Parliamentary Research Officer for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that collaborated on the PPW, outlines the objectives that formed the backdrop to the running of an extremely successful programme.


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Ms Silivia ‘Atiola Ms ‘Atiola is a


Parliamentary Research Officer for the UNDP. She joined the Legislative Assembly of Tonga as a Parliamentary Research Officer under UNDP’s Tonga Governance Strengthening


Programme in January 2014.


Ms ‘Atiola has also acted as the Committee Clerk for the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance and Public Accounts since February 2014. She was the former Assistant Crown Counsel at the Tonga Attorney General’s Office from 2009 to 2013.


These statistics strongly highlight the fact that despite the fact that women comprise half of the country’s population, the percentage of women’s representation at local and national levels of decision making has been minimal.2


Ms Silivia ‘Atiola


History of Tongan Women in Parliament


Women in Tonga were first given the right to vote and stand in elections in 1951, but it was only in 1975 that the first female Member of Parliament was elected. In the decades that followed, there has only been a total of seven women that have entered Parliament, three of them by virtue of their appointment as Cabinet Ministers.


At the level of local government, the first woman to be elected as a town officer was in 2004. Since then, only three women have held the same


182 | The Parliamentarian | 2014: Issue Three


As a result of the slow progress, the Speaker of Tonga’s Legislative Assembly, Lord Fakafanua, decided that a Practice Parliament for Women (PPW) be held. Its aim was to encourage and promote women’s active participation and involvement in the legislative process. Following in the examples of Practice Parliaments held in neighboring countries such as Kiribati and Solomon Islands, Tonga also initiated its first ever Practice Parliament for Women.


Politics in Tonga


Prior to 2010, Tonga’s Legislative Assembly was comprised of 12 cabinet ministers, two Governors, nine elected nobles’ representatives (elected by 33 of their peers) and nine people’s representatives who were popularly elected by universal suffrage.3


In 2010 however, major political reforms occurred with the passage of several historical constitutional amendments. These amendments removed the King’s royal prerogative to appoint the Prime Minister and Ministers of Cabinet and vested that authority in the Members of the Legislative Assembly. It also resulted in a major increase of the number of people’s representatives from nine to 17.


The objectives of this reform sought to reflect Tonga’s commitment to having a more inclusive Parliament and government. This was following the destructive riots that threw the country into chaos in November 2006. Furthermore, these changes meant there was now a better chance for both men and women to become elected Members of Parliament. Despite this new distribution of power in recent years, there is still very little improvement in the advancement of women’s real political representation in Tonga.


Public awareness campaign The Practice Parliament was a week-


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