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Barbara Dreaver: Spotlight on new Tongan king

opinion Barbara Dreaver

By Barbara Dreaver ONE News Pacific Correspondent

Published: 10:35AM Tuesday March 27, 2012 Source: ONE News

The procession carrying the coffin of the late King George Tupou V from the airport into town moved at a cracking pace.

After waiting five hours in the hot sun the students got a brief glimpse of the hearse carrying their King before it swept him into the palace.

It was in stark contrast to the cavalcade of the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou's whose funeral I was here for six years ago which moved at a more sedate speed.

But perhaps that is indicative of the new Tonga. Little is known about the leadership style of the new King Tupou VI except that change is definitely afoot.

King George had barely drawn his last breath when his brother not only took up the reigns of power, he made a range of decisions which made the nobles in Tonga sit up. Perhaps, one might argue, that is what a good leader is supposed to do.

The first decision was bringing the funeral forward a day to Tuesday, rather than Wednesday. Then the King decided the funeral itself would be two hours - as opposed to the usual four - as part of cost-cutting measures. The mourning period was gazetted as being at three months, but the King decided it should be five days.

While no official reasons have been given, the word is the new King is deeply concerned about his Kingdom's dire economic situation and a full blown Tongan funeral with all the trimmings is something it just cannot afford.

To outsiders these decisions may not seem like a big deal. But in Tongan traditional circles it has been akin to a nuclear explosion as age-old customs have been ditched.

There is no doubt the new King is no fool - he is well educated and has completed a diplomatic stint of several years as High Commissioner in Canberra.

He has a wife and family. While he has a chequered past as Prime Minister of Tonga - he was essentially removed and sent to Canberra - one might also argue that his advisors and cabinet can't have been that great either.

It appears that the new King is sending a very clear message who is in the driver's seat. And frankly, those who have actively worked against him in the past must be feeling the earth shaking slightly beneath them.

So far his decisions have come across as concern for a Kingdom which has come close to insolvency in the last year. A longer mourning period would have meant businesses would suffer.

A longer lying in state would have meant the people would have had to give what they can't afford. Just the one night of lying in state meant 30,000 portions of food had to be prepared - food donated from villagers.

Willingly donated I should add, people are more than happy to give for such an event - but they are doing it tough here in Tonga.

The question that many are asking is what style of rule will King Tupou VI take. Will he allow democracy to take its course?

It is time to give this King a real chance to show what he's made of and where he can lead this proud nation. So the jury is out for now - but all eyes will be on him in the coming months.

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