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Country profile: Tonga
languages: Tongan, English Head of state: King George Tupou V
Prime minister: Feleti Sevele
Kingdom of Tonga
percent of GDP in 1999, and in 1996 employed 34
percent of the labor force. In terms of GDP this
proportion has been fairly consistent through
the 1980s and 1990s, despite fluctuations
due to weather and unstable world market prices
for agricultural products.
As in most Pacific countries, subsistence
production for domestic use is an important part
of the economy, although not well recorded. The
export of agricultural products has been highly
unpredictable over time. Through most of the
20th century, Tonga's main export was coconut
products, mainly copra (dried coconut meat
yielding coconut oil), but at various times
other products have been exported in sizeable
quantities, particularly bananas.
A specialized market for squash was established
in the 1980s when Tonga secured a quota to
supply the vegetable to Japan during several
months of the year when other sources,
especially New Zealand, were not producing. In
the early 1990s, this source of export income
grew, but in the second half of that decade,
production fluctuated considerably as a result
of disease, weather, and oversupply. Other
squash producers from Vanuatu and Mexico have
also offered competition by entering the same
A group of more than 170 islands spread over an area of the South Pacific roughly the size of Japan, Tonga is the last Polynesian monarchy.
A deeply conservative, Christian country, it is ruled by a king supported by hereditary noblemen who together have a perpetual majority in parliament, electing or appointing 21 of its 30 members, but moves are afoot to democratise the constitution.
A former British protectorate, Tonga became fully independent in 1970, though it was never formally colonised.
Tonga has no strategic or mineral resources and relies on agriculture, fishing and the money sent home by Tongans living abroad, many of them in New Zealand. Unemployment is high, particularly among the young.
100 days of mourning followed the death of King Tupou IV
Endowed with tropical beaches, rainforest and active volcanoes, it has a developing tourist industry - its main source of hard currency.
Almost all Tongans are Polynesian and its population has remained largely untouched by immigration. This has made it ideal for genetic research into the causes of common diseases.
Although Tonga has a highly traditional society, calls by young, Western-educated Tongans for a more democratic constitution have become increasingly hard to ignore.
In November 2009, a constitutional review panel recommended a ceremonial monarchy stripped of most of its real political power and a fully-elected parliament in place of the current, largely hereditary body. The king had previously indicated he was wholeheartedly committed to democratic reform.
A first tentative step towards reform was taken in early 2005 when elected MPs were appointed to the cabinet - previously handpicked from outside parliament - for the first time.
But demand for change became stronger. A public sector strike in 2005, marked by major street demonstrations, expanded into a campaign for political reform. In November 2006, riots erupted in the capital, in which eight people were killed.
King George Tupou V was sworn in during a brief ceremony in September 2006, succeeding his father King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV when he died after a long illness. The new king's coronation took place in August 2008.
King George Tupou V says he is committed to reform
King Tupou says he is committed to economic development and democratic reform.
Following the pro-democracy riots in November 2006, the government agreed to hold elections in 2010 in which a majority of the parliament will be directly elected by a popular vote.
Tupou V owns some of Tonga's biggest businesses, including the island's only power company, a brewery and a mobile phone company. The palace says the king has started to divest himself of his commercial interests.
The King was educated in New Zealand, Switzerland and Britain. A bachelor with no legitimate children, he has named his younger brother as heir apparent. He is known for his liking for wearing military uniforms and for driving around in a London taxi.
Prime minister: Feleti Sevele
One of Tonga's few elected rather than appointed politicians and a long-standing advocate of more democracy, Feleti Sevele was made the country's first non-noble prime minister after six months of public protests demanding a smaller role for the royal family in government.
Feleti Sevele is Tonga's first non-noble prime minister
His predecessor, 'Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, was a member of the royal family.
An economist and mathematician by training, Mr Sevele previously served as minister of trade and labour and negotiated Tonga's membership of the World Trade Organisation.
He said his appointment showed that the monarchy was ready to change. King Tupou V announced shortly after his coronation in August 2008 that he was transferring the day-to-day running of the government to Prime Minister Sevele ahead of the 2010 elections.