Pacific leaders offer condolences to Tongan Prime Minister's death

By Adel Fruean 12 September 2019, 6:53PM

Pacific leaders have paid tribute to the late Tongan Prime Minister, Samiuela ‘Akilisi Pōhiva, who died on Thursday.

The 78-year-old passed away in Auckland, New Zealand, an official from the country's Information Ministry confirmed to the Samoa Observer yesterday. 

Mr. Pohiva was taken for emergency treatment to Auckland on Wednesday night for treatment for liver problems but died on Thursday morning.

He became Tonga’s Prime Minister on 30 December 2014 after a long life in politics that included decades at the forefront of a push for reform. 

Pōhiva was the longest-serving people's representative in the Tongan Parliament, having first been elected in 1987. His parliamentary career was marked by frequent confrontations with authorities. 

In December 2013, Parliamentarians for Global Action presented him with their annual Defender of Democracy Award, in recognition of his three and a half decades of campaigning for greater democracy in Tonga. He was the first Pacific Islander to receive the award. 

In 1996 he was imprisoned for contempt of Parliament for reporting on Parliament's proceedings.

He was subsequently released after the Supreme Court ruled the imprisonment "unlawful and unconstitutional".

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison expressed his condolences on Twitter:

“Terribly saddened to hear of the passing of Tongan Prime Minister, Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva,” he said.

“He was a passionate advocate for his people, for his beloved Tonga and our Pacific family. Jenny and I send our condolences to his family, as well as the Government and the people of Tonga.”

In 2002, he was charged with sedition over an article published in his newspaper "Kele’a" alleging the King had a secret fortune, but was acquitted by a jury.

On 18 January 2007 Pōhiva was arrested over his role in the 2006 Nuku'alofa riots. He was subsequently charged with sedition. In the 2008 election he was re-elected for an eighth term.

King Tupou VI effectively sacked him in 2017 by dissolving parliament and calling a snap election, but Mr. Pohiva defied expectations to win a second term.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern extended New Zealand’s condolences following the death of Tonga’s Prime Minister, Rt Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who passed away this morning in Auckland.

“We extend our condolences to his family and to the people of Tonga. Prime Minister Pohiva was an elder statesman of the Pacific and a great friend to New Zealand,” she said.

“He will be remembered for his lifelong commitment to championing democracy. 

“He was also a powerful advocate for Pacific regionalism, demonstrated at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Tuvalu where he advocated for climate change action and regional solidarity. Our thoughts are with the people of Tonga.”

A statement was also released by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor who said that the Tongan Prime Minister Samiuela ‘Akilisi Pōhiva would be remembered as a compelling advocate for democracy and freedom, and a kind man and principled man with great affection for Pacific people.

“As one of the longest serving parliamentarians in our region, Prime Minister Pōhiva dedicated his life to the service and leadership of his country and people," she said. 

“During his political career we saw him transition from firebrand activist to an elder statesman of the Blue Pacific always staying true to his strong ideals of democracy and human rights.”

She said that Prime Minister Pōhiva’s last official overseas engagement was to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, just four weeks ago.

“The Prime Minister showed great courage and resolve to attend the meeting while he was very unwell. I think in many ways he came to say goodbye, to show his respect and solidarity with the Forum Leaders and to make a final resounding stand on issues close to his heart.

“His attendance in Tuvalu was important for the outcomes we were able to reach, especially on climate change and West Papua, and all those who were there will fondly remember his heart-felt participation in discussions with Pacific civil society representatives and at the Leaders Retreat.

“I will remember him as a fighter until the very end. May his legacy stand true and be an inspiration to the people across the Blue Pacific.”

A Tongan student studying Agriculture at the University of the South Pacific at Alafua Campus, Funaki Mapapalangi, expressed his deepest condolences to the family of the late Prime Minister.

“When I first heard about the passing of our late Prime Minister I was completely shocked, he was one of our good leaders,” he added.

The 25-year-old from Malopo village in Tonga said that Mr. Pohiva was doing a good job at leading our people in terms of politics.

“I think that in honour of the death of our Prime Minister it is tradition for the people from his village to wear black to show respect.

“I would like to offer my condolences to the family of the deceased and may his soul rest in God forever with everlasting love; he is one of the people’s heroes and great leader.

“And we hope that this coming Sunday our Tongan community in Samoa can dedicate our church service especially for him.”

Before entering politics, Mr Pohiva had taught history and sociology at the Tongan Campus of the University of the South Pacific. 

He was married to Neomai Pohiva and had seven children.

By Adel Fruean 12 September 2019, 6:53PM

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