Sitting Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva dies aged 78

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Pohiva in 2016
Image: International Telecommunication Union.

Akilisi Pohiva, the prime minister of Tonga, died today at 10:00 a.m. Tongan time (2100 UTC, yesterday) at the age of 78. Pohiva, who had been Tonga's prime minister since his election in 2014, was evacuated Wednesday afternoon from Tonga's capital, Nukuʻalofa, to a hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, with pneumonia.

ABC reported that Pohiva received medical treatment in New Zealand for problems with his liver this year. In the wake of Pohiva's death, Tonga's parliament, the Legislative Assembly, was suspended indefinitely according to local media.

Pohiva was a long-time advocate for democratization in Tonga, The Guardian reported. When elected prime minister by the parliament in 2014, it was the first time they had elected a commoner to the office; historically, prime ministers were appointed by the King or Queen. He first joined parliament in 1987, making him the longest serving member of Tonga's parliament. During that service, he was once jailed for contempt of parliament, in 1996, and was also changed with sedition in the aftermath of the 2006 pro-democracy riots in Nukuʻalofa.

Prior to joining parliament, Pohiva taught classes in sociology and history at the University of the South Pacific's campus in Tonga. In 2013, he became the first Pacific Islander to be awarded the Parliamentarians for Global Action's Defender of Democracy Award.