Tongans head to the polls this morning

Tongans head to the polls this morning in an election described as a "real litmus test" on how people feel about political reform.

Some 59,000 people have registered to vote in the general election, including on the supplementary roll.

There are 86 candidates contesting the 17 People's Representatives seats in parliament. Nine nobles representatives will also be elected.

In August the King dissolved the parliament amid concerns the government of Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva was acting unconstitutionally and gathering power for itself.

A Tongan political scientist said today's election was one of the most significant in the country's history.

Massey University director of Pasifika Malakai Koloamatangi is in Tonga for the election and said the political reforms of 2010 had led to this moment.

Dr Koloamatangi said the importance of the vote could not be overstated.

"The first election was okay, 2010, it was testing the waters and so forth. 2014 was to see whether the mechanisms and machinery was in place," he said.

"But this election, I think more than the others, even before 2010, will be the real litmus test."

Dr Koloamatangi said the vote would illustrate how people felt about reform.

"Firstly, how people have come to understand the notion of democracy; secondly, whether they accept it obviously, indicated by who they will vote for; and thirdly see what people actually think a Tongan democracy ought to look like in the future."

Polling stations open at 9am and close at 4pm. Matangi Tonga Online said the nobles' election for their nine representatives would be held between 10am and midday.

Results are expected to be announced today.


Photo file. Caption: Voting in Tonga in the last election