King George Tupou V: Reformer who brought democracy to Tonga

 

King George Tupou V of Tonga was widely seen as a reformer who gave up most of his powers in order to usher in a more democratic era to the small South Pacific kingdom of 176 islands with a population of just over 105,000. Seen as an eccentric by many, Tupou loved Savile Row suits and military uniforms, and had a penchant for the dress of Lord Chelmsford's army in the Anglo-Zulu campaign, with spats, pith helmet and brass. He commanded the Tongan Defence Services, which saw service in Iraq and are now in Afghanistan.

Although his reign was short, the colourful, sometimes monocled, King was much loved, even in the most remote villages of the sprawling archipelago, and he left a legacy of radical political reforms, with a constitutional monarchy in place after 165 years of feudal rule. His father, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, who was on the throne for 40 years, had resisted ceding any power from Tonga's absolute monarchy or acquiescing to demands for democracy, and when he died in September 2006 there were protests at the slow pace of reform, which eventually erupted into a wave of rioting and looting resulting in eight deaths and, despite the deployment of troops, the destruction of much of the central business district of the capital, Nuku'alofa.

Critics accused members of the royal family of enriching themselves through deals with the government and putting millions of pounds in overseas banks. Meanwhile, most of the people lived in poverty as subsistence farmers.

With such a backdrop, Tupou was persuaded to postpone his officialcoronation until 2008, realising the need for reform. He put together a framework for sweeping changes which saw power transfer to a largely democratically elected parliament with the Crown becoming a constitutional monarchy. The King would, however, remain head of state with the right to veto laws, commute sentences and dissolve parliament.

Days after announcing the reforms Tupou was finally crowned at an elaborate and lavish five-day ceremony, attended by 1,000 guests including the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Sultan of Brunei and the then New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. It incorporated tribal rites, with dozens of slaughtered pigs and hundreds of baskets of food given in tribute; the King was offered a bowl of kava, a mildly hallucinogenic drink made from plant roots, to signify his sovereignty over Tonga. All this cost £1.6 million, straining the finances of an already impoverished country.

But in November 2010, Tupou's pledge was made good and the people of Tonga voted for their first popularly elected parliament. Under the new constitution, voters chose representatives for 17 seats, with nine reserved for nobles. On the eve of the vote, Tupou announced that he was giving his executive powers to the cabinet and parliament, saying: "in future the sovereign shall act only on the advice of his Prime Minister". Noble Siale'ataongo Tu'ivakano became Tonga's first democratically elected Prime Minister.

Born Siaosi Taufa'ahau Manumataongo Tuku'aho Tupou in the capital Nuku'alofa in May 1948, George Tupou was the eldest of four sons of Taufa'ahau Tupou IV and Queen Halaevalu Mata'aho. Initially educated in Auckland, New Zealand, Tupou then went to the Leys School, Cambridge, where he got into a few scrapes but "took my punishment like everyone else" before finishing off in Switzerland.

To his surprise he was sent for officer training at Sandhurst, where he excelled in marksmanship and in the classroom. But, he later recalled, he learnt "not to take life too seriously." This was followed by a spell at Oxford University in preparation for a role as Tonga's High Commissioner in London before returning to Tonga as Minister for Foreign Affairs. His latter role enabled his intellect and charm to come to the fore and he became a respected figure on the Commonwealth stage. He retained an immense fondness for Britain.

In his free time, despite the tropical climate, Tupou relished nothing more than wearing Western clothes, adorning elaborate military uniforms and being driven around in his customised London taxi. The choice, he explained, was entirely practical: "An English taxi is extremely easy to get in and out of wearing a sword, a spiked helmet or spurs. I realise these are not primary considerations for buying a car for most people but it is for me." He also enjoyed sailing model boats in his pool, playing computer games, documentary-making and staging Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries.

Tupou died after a short illness, which it is suspected could be related to the removal of a cancerous tumour in 2011. He remained a bachelor but had a daughter. His younger brother, Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka, succeeds him as King.

Martin Childs

Siaosi Taufa'ahau Manumataongo Tuku'aho Tupou (King George Tupou V of Tonga): born Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu, Tonga 4 May 1948; one daughter; died Hong Kong 19 March 2012.

News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Adam Lallana, Juan Cala, Andy Carroll and Cameron Jerome
sportThe latest news and scores
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on TV
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit