The Kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy, and political life is dominated by the king, the nobility, and a few prominent commoners. Citizens lacked the ability to effectively change their government, as only nine representatives were elected by popular vote in the April 2008 legislative assembly elections; nine additional representatives were elected by 33 noble families. The 14 members of the cabinet, who are appointed by the king, also joined the assembly as voting members. In May 2007 there were reports that security forces physically abused detainees in the weeks following November 2006 riots. The riots, which left eight people dead, were a culmination of large-scale protests related to the pace of political reforms. The government at times restricted the freedom of the media to cover political topics. Government corruption and discrimination against women are continuing problems.
The protection of human rights, the fostering of democratic institutions, and promoting peace and security in Tonga are top priorities of the U.S. government. The United States maintains dialogue with all political factions in Tonga, including the prodemocracy movement, with the goal of encouraging progress on political and electoral reforms. The United States also focuses on building the capacity of prodemocracy NGOs and nascent political parties to ensure the successful implementation of these reforms. In the wake of the 2006 riots, the United States is working to promote political reconciliation and dialogue between prodemocracy and conservative forces.
U.S. officials frequently engage senior officials, journalists, media organizations, and other civil society activists to underscore the importance of democratic reforms, human rights, rule of law, and good governance. The United States funds local NGOs to hold voter education workshops. Through the U.S. International Visitor Leadership Program, media representatives, and democracy and human rights activists travel to the United States to learn about grassroots democracy, the media's role in a democracy, and the U.S. electoral system.