WikiLeaks cable: GNZ views on Tonga's political reform following death of champion

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

August 1, 2006
GNZ views on Tonga's political reform following death of champion

source:embassy wellington
destination:vzczcxro7457 rr ruehpb de ruehwl #0599/01 2131917 zny
ccccc zzh r 011917z aug 06 fm amembassy wellington to ruehc/secstate
washdc 3108 info ruehby/amembassy canberra 4498 ruehpb/amembassy port
moresby 0590 ruehsv/amembassy suva 0491 rhhmuna/cdr uspacom honolulu
hi rhhjjaa/jicpac honolulu hi
?c o n f i d e n t i a l section 01 of 03 wellington 000599



state for eap/fo and eap/anp
pacom for jo1e/j2/j233/j5/sjfh...
?c o n f i d e n t i a l section 01 of 03 wellington 000599



state for eap/fo and eap/anp
pacom for jo1e/j2/j233/j5/sjfhq

e.o. 12958: decl: 07/31/2016
tags: prel, nz, tn
subject: gnz views on tonga's political reform following
death of champion

ref: a. suva 215
b. suva 28
c. suva 100
d. 05 suva 613
e. suva 222
f. wellington 451
g. secstate 120947

(u) classified by: acting deputy chief of mission katherine
b. hadda, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (c) with a vocal domestic population of 40,000 ethnic
tongans, the gnz has monitored with interest the deaths of
tongan prince tu'ipelehake and princess kaimana in a july 5
car accident in the united states. gnz views the death of
the prince as a blow to the political reform process in
tonga. however, nz officials are unsure whether the reform
process will proceed to further democratic reform or will
fade with the death of one of its strongest champions. the
expatriot tongan community and gnz have been closely engaged
in the tongan political reform for several years, as fm
winston peters discussed with the secretary during his july
visit to washington. end summary.

death of tonga's champion for political reform: gnz's views
--------------------------------------------- --------------
2. (u) new zealand officials reacted with strong concern and
genuine sadness to the death of tongan prince tu'ipelehake
and princess kaimana, killed in a car accident south of san
francisco on july 5. as part of an ongoing political reform
consultation process, the prince and princess were in the
united states to meet with ex-patriot tongans. their
consultation visit followed a similar consultation visit to
new zealand in june.

3. (sbu) new zealand officials had been quietly working with
the prince to help bring constitutional and political change
in the kingdom of tonga. according to contacts at the new
zealand ministry of foreign affairs and trade (mfat), when
the tongan government conceded large wage increases at the
end of the six-week strike in 2005, it also conceded to a
process for examining the possibility of political change
through the national committee on political reform (ncpr).
both the australian and new zealand governments provided
generous funding for the committee's work, which began in
earnest in february 2006 and, according to mfat, had gained
widespread acceptance in tonga. the prince also consulted
with the tongan community in new zealand in mid-june, before
making similar trips to australia and the united states.

4. (sbu) mfat believes the work of the ncpr will be
completed, and anticipates its final report in august or
september. the head of the tonga advisory council in new
zealand, melino maka, who was in tonga at the time of the
prince's death, told the new zealand high commission there
that he hoped tu'ipelehake's death would cause more tongans
to put aside their petty differences and work more
co-operatively toward the common goals espoused by the
prince. however, when the prince was in new zealand in june,
the factious auckland tongan community did not act
cooperatively to facilitate the committee's consultations.
according to mfat, the committee's work is almost complete,
but that it will be for others to carry the findings forward
to the next phase.

5. (c) but mfat concedes progress could be slow. deputy
director of mfat's pacific division, marion crawshaw, says,
"more has been done in the last two years than in the last 50
years. it may take a few years, but they've got the
shoreline stuff sorted out, and while there was concern about
the economy 18 months ago, the minister of finance has his
got his hands firmly around that." she estimates that
substantive political reform within 5 years is a probability.

6. (c) although overseas tongans are officially outside of
its remit, mfat also hopes the prince's death will unite the
often fractious expatriates. ma'anaima soa, parliamentary
staffer to minister of pacific island affairs phil goff and
associate minster winnie laban, separately gave us a more
pessimistic readout about the tongans in new zealand. she
noted that the competing groups had conducted separate
memorial services for the prince and princess at places

wellington 00000599 002 of 003

throughout auckland and greater new zealand. moreover, she
expressed sincere doubt that the reform movement would
withstand the death of prince. he was the "heart" of the
movement without an heir apparent, she said.

pacific issues as new zealand domestic issues
7. (c) as mfat deputy secretary alan williams told emboffs in
june (ref f), in new zealand "pacific issues quickly become
domestic issues." the pacific population in new zealand is
6.2 percent and is growing quickly. most islanders are in
the auckland region, including high concentrations in the
electorates of prime minister helen clark and minister of
pacific island affairs phil goff. associate minister of
pacific island affairs (and ethnic samoan) winnie laban's
electorate in a wellington suburb also has one of the highest
concentration of pacific islanders in new zealand.

8. (c) when williams spoke of pacific issues becoming
domestic issues, he had in mind the specific case of
political transition in tonga. at over 40,000, the tongan
diaspora here accounts for about 40 percent of all the
world's tongans, according to gnz. about 78 percent of them
live in auckland.

9. (u) until recently, king taufa'ahau tupou iv had been
residing at his auckland home, the site of periodic
anti-monarchy protests over the last year and of august 2005
property damage and bomb threats coincident with the public
service strike in tonga. on july 1 of this year, a tongan
democracy activist's car burst into flames when he drove into
the gates of the residence. (the king was still in the
auckland residence but was unhurt. he soon returned under
heightened security to his 88th birthday celebrations to

new zealand's engagement in tonga's political transition
--------------------------------------------- -----------
10. (c) it's therefore understandable that new zealand takes
a special interest in tonga, and that wellington's actions
reverberate in nuku'alofa. when new zealand's parliamentary
foreign affairs select committee in 2004 initiated an inquiry
into new zealand's relationship with tonga, it sparked debate
amongst new zealand's mps, as well as between loyalist and
democratic factions of new zealand's tongan diaspora. the
final report contained seventeen recommendations, most
related to development assistance toward capacity building
and good governance initiatives involving the new zealand
agency for international development (nzaid).

11. (sbu) among hotly debated issue were freedom of the press
and comparisons of tonga to zimbabwe, and the trade gap
between new zealand and tonga. the then acting prime
minister of tonga, clive edwards, condemned the inquiry as
"patronizing and a breach of sovereignty," and asked,
rhetorically, where else the gnz had made inquiries in the
pacific. the commonwealth's special envoy to tonga, sir
douglas graham said, "an aggressive inquiry may make tonga's
rulers less willing to embrace democratic reforms." the
tongan government declined the approaches of new zealand's
foreign affairs select committee to discuss the inquiry.
(the committee's full report can be found at

12. (c) fm peters visited tonga in march, and when he met
with the secretary on july 19 he highlighted gnz's effort to
introduce democracy to tonga (ref g). (ironically, before
peters was named as foreign minister his party, nz first,
criticized the 2005 parliamentary report on tonga as
"interference by new zealand into the affairs of another
country.") while gnz's primary pacific concern remains with
melanesia, particularly its ongoing commitments through the
regional assistance mission in the solomon islands (ramsi),
it recognizes that it is facing the winds of change with
long-standing polynesian partners.

13. (c) while mfat is optimistic that real democratic reforms
will be achieved in tonga in the longer term, it remains
unclear as to how the movement will respond to the death of
its champion, prince tu'ipelehake, in the near term. gnz
officials will remain actively engaged in the process due to
their deep commitment to pacific issues and because of the
active and sizable tongan diaspora in new zealand. gnz

wellington 00000599 003 of 003

efforts to encourage reform in tonga will be largely kept
from public view, and will most likely rely on sustained
capacity building and good governance initiatives promoted
through nzaid. end comment.

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