Tonga - unique among Pacific nations - never completely lost its indigenous governance. The archipelagos of "The Friendly Islands" were united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845. Tonga became a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and a British protectorate in 1900; it withdrew from the protectorate and joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970. Tonga remains the only monarchy in the Pacific.
cyclones (October to April); earthquakes and volcanic activity on Fonuafo'ou
the Tonga Islands experience volcanic activity; Fonualei (elev. 180 m, 591 ft) has shown frequent activity in recent years, while Niuafo'ou (elev. 260 m, 853 ft), which last erupted in 1985, has forced evacuations; other historically active volcanoes include Late and Tofua
deforestation results as more and more land is being cleared for agriculture and settlement; some damage to coral reefs from starfish and indiscriminate coral and shell collectors; overhunting threatens native sea turtle populations
chief of state: King George TUPOU V (since 11 September 2006)
head of government:
Prime Minister Dr. Feleti SEVELE (since 11 February 2006); Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Viliami TANGI (since 16 May 2006)
Cabinet consists of 14 members, 10 are appointed by the monarch for life; 4 appointed from among the elected members of the Legislative Assembly, including 2 each from the nobles' and peoples' representatives serving three-year terms
unicameral Legislative Assembly or Fale Alea (32 seats - 14 reserved for cabinet ministers sitting ex officio, 9 for nobles selected by the country's 33 nobles, 9 members elected by popular vote to serve three-year terms)
last held on 23-24 April 2008 (next to be held in 2011)
red with a bold red cross on a white rectangle in the upper hoist-side corner; the cross reflects the deep-rooted Christianity in Tonga; red represents the blood of Christ and his sacrifice; white signifies purity
Tonga has a small, open, South Pacific island economy. It has a narrow export base in agricultural goods. Squash, vanilla beans, and yams are the main crops. Agricultural exports, including fish, make up two-thirds of total exports. The country must import a high proportion of its food, mainly from New Zealand. The country remains dependent on external aid and remittances from Tongan communities overseas to offset its trade deficit. Tourism is the second-largest source of hard currency earnings following remittances. Tonga had 39,000 visitors in 2006. The government is emphasizing the development of the private sector, especially the encouragement of investment, and is committing increased funds for health and education. Tonga has a reasonably sound basic infrastructure and well developed social services. High unemployment among the young, a continuing upturn in inflation, pressures for democratic reform, and rising civil service expenditures are major issues facing the government.
general assessment: competition between Tonga Telecommunications Corporation (TCC) and Shoreline Communications Tonga (SCT) is accelerating expansion of telecommunications; SCT granted approval to introduce high-speed digital service for telephone, Internet, and television while TCC has exclusive rights to operate the mobile-phone network; international telecom services are provided by government-owned Tonga Telecommunications International (TTI)
combined fixed-line and mobile-cellular teledensity exceeds 60 telephones per 100 persons; fully automatic switched network
country code - 676; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean) (2007)
2 state-owned television stations and 2 privately-owned stations; satellite and cable TV services are available; 2 state-owned and 3 privately-owned radio stations; Radio Australia broadcasts obtainable via a satellite feed (2009)