NUKU'ALOFA - Tongan pro-democracy leader 'Akilisi Pohiva will meet his supporters in Nuku'alofa today to discuss forming a new government after yesterday's first democratic elections.

The chances of his becoming prime minister had been considered remote, but they improved substantially last night when he and his supporters took eight of the 10 seats on the kingdom's largest island, Tongatapu.

One of the favourites for the top job, Deputy Prime Minister Bill Tangi, was defeated, as was an outsider for PM, former Auckland lawyer and city councillor Clive Edwards.

Results from outer islands won't be known until this morning.

Before vote-counting began, Mr Pohiva said the day was historic and it was time to put the past behind him.

"My supporters and I, we have to forget that," he said.

"We are now coming towards the end of the old order. Now we are looking forward to meeting the new political era."

He said he felt emotional after "a long walk" of more than 30 years.

Mr Pohiva said he knew he would have to work with former foes to try to form a government.

"There is no other option. We have to try to get them to form a government if we don't have a majority."

Under the new constitution, a Parliament of 26 - 17 people's representatives and nine MPs from Tonga's nobles - will for the first time elect a prime minister, who in turn will appoint the Cabinet.

Previously, the monarch has appointed both.

There was nervousness yesterday that Crown Prince Lavaka Ata 'Ulukalala could undermine the democratic reforms by putting his name forward as one of the nine noble MPs.

But his decision not to do so makes it more likely that a "commoner", one of the people's representatives, will be elected prime minister.

The Crown Prince is likely to stay in his current job as High Commissioner to Canberra.

Because of Tonga's culture, he would almost certainly have been elected PM if he had put his name forward as a nobles' representative.

It is possible King George Tupou V pressured his brother not to stand.

The pair have clashed politically before, and the King dismissed the Crown Prince in 2006 when he was Prime Minister.

George installed Dr Feleti Sevele, who has shepherded through democratic reforms.

Mr Pohiva said yesterday that having the Crown Prince as prime minister would have upset his supporters and could have led to a crisis in the government.

He said he would hold an informal meeting after results were in, and a formal meeting of the Human Rights and Democracy Movement later today.

Before it was clear that the Crown Prince had pulled out, Dr Sevele, the outgoing Prime Minister, said that no matter what the outcome - even a Parliament led by a noble - the result would be democratic.

It appeared late last night that no women had been elected to the Parliament. Of the 147 candidates, 11 were women.