There were pro-democracy riots in Nuku'alofa in November 2006 which left 8 people dead and large portions of the town centre flattened by fire. Tonga is one of the last absolute monarchies in the world and is based upon an essentially feudal system where the king disburses land and positions without recourse to any elected body. Although Tongan royalty is largely loved and revered by Tongans, younger people have an appetite for stronger accountability and a more modern constitution. An election was held in November 2010. This was planned to lead to a major reduction in the powers of the King and the land-owning nobility in favour of a more democratic form of governance. However, of the 26 seats in Parliament only 17 are elected, with the rest being allocated to the nobles. After some horse trading, it was a noble who emerged as the Prime Minister.
Tonga has an economy with none of the corporate chain stores and with local small businesses providing all necessary goods and services. Tourists were not a target during the riots and you will find Tonga a friendly and appealing place to visit although don't expect the same level of infrastructure as in more developed countries. Rebuilding after the riots in Nuku'alofa has been more or less completed and there are abundant tourism facilities.
The archipelago of "The Friendly Islands" was united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845. It became a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and a British protectorate in 1900. Tonga acquired its independence in 1970 and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is one of the few indigenous monarchies in the Pacific.