NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga Tonga's king has agreed to give up much of the near-absolute power his family has held for generations over this tiny South Pacific nation, his spokesman said Monday.
King George Tupou V will relinquish his role in day-to-day governmental affairs and will be guided by the prime minister "in all matters of governance," said the king's palace spokesman, Lord Chamberlain, Hon. Fielakepa.
Tonga is one of just a handful of countries in the world where the monarch runs the day-to-day government.
George V, 60, is making the changes to ensure the monarchy is ready for the 2010 elections, which will transfer the majority voice in Parliament to the people, Fielakepa said late Monday. Like many Tongan nobles, Fielakepa uses just one name.
"The Sovereign of the only Polynesian kingdom ... is voluntarily surrendering his powers to meet the democratic aspirations of many of his people," Fielakepa said.
The people "favor a more representative, elected Parliament. The king agrees with them," he said in a statement. No period was given.
The palace has for years promised democratic reforms, but progress has been slow and public dissatisfaction has been building. Tensions at a pro-democracy rally in the capital, Nuku'alofa, boiled over into riots in 2006 that left eight dead and the city's downtown razed.
The announcement was made just two days before Tonga begins lavish coronation ceremonies to formally enthrone George V, an event that is expected to bring Tonga to a standstill for four days.
Since ascending the throne in 2006 after the death of his father, Tupou IV, the new king has promised to speed up the reforms.
Currently, the king appoints the prime minister and 13 Cabinet ministers. Noble families who have close ties to the king choose nine others. Just nine lawmakers are elected by voters.