NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga: Tongans go to the polls on Thursday after the Pacific kingdom's monarch took the unprecedented step of dissolving parliament and calling an election.
King Tupou VI has never explained why he dramatically intervened in the island nation's politics in Aug, dismissing Akilisi Pohiva, the first commoner to ever serve as Tonga's prime minister.
But many hope the poll will help reinvigorate the tiny nation's stalled experiment with democracy, which descended into in-fighting and instability under Pohiva.
Candidate Ana Bing Fonua, who resigned from a top public service job to contest the election, said more women and young people should be represented.
"There needs to be a diversity in parliament and the youth voice is absent," she said. "There are social issues that women need to address."
"I also want to lift the calibre of the character of the MPs in how they deliberate," she added.
Tonga, with 60,000 voters from a population of just 110,000, has a 26-seat parliament with 17 members elected by the people and nine spots taken by hereditary nobles.
Suffrage was extended in 2010 after rioting in the capital Nuku'alofa four years earlier that left eight people dead, sparked by anger that reform of the semi-feudal political system was progressing too slowly.
Pohiva, once a prominent pro-democracy activist, was widely criticised for failing to adapt to leadership after he was elected in 2014.
After Pohiva's Aug sacking, parliamentary speaker Lord Tu'ivakano said that the prime minister had been trying to "trespass" on the monarch's powers.
He also said Pohiva wasted parliament's time with "frivolous" motions of impeachment.
This year's election campaign has been peaceful and the head of the Tonga Media Council Pisi Fonua said voters were concentrating on local issues.
"They are more or less looking at their urgent needs like to have good water or good roads or street lights," he told Radio New Zealand.
"That's what comes out. The more serious issues of employment and things like that, seem to be on the next page."
Unofficial results are expected late Thursday but the process of selecting a prime minister and forming a government could take weeks.
Tonga does not have formal political parties, meaning post-election negotiations involve protracted horse trading. — AFP