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Pohiva’s Death a Major Loss to Region

Mr Pohiva, 78, will be remembered as a champion of democracy and a strong advocate for action on climate change. One of his last official engagements was his attendance at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu.
13 Sep 2019 20:42
Pohiva’s Death a Major Loss to Region
From left: Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and the late Tongan Prime Minister, ‘Akilisi Pohiva, at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Tuvalu last month.

Editorial:

Fiji has joined the rest of the Pacific in mourning the death of Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva.

Mr Pohiva, 78, will be remembered as a champion of democracy and a strong advocate for action on climate change. One of his last official engagements was his attendance at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu.

There he shed tears when the leaders could not reach a unanimous position in the climate change battle, demonstrating his passion about the plight of small island states in the region.

Before he became a politician, he was a school teacher after studying at the University of the South Pacific. In the late 1970’s he became active in Tonga’s pro-democracy.

His lost his job in the civil service because he spoke out against the Government but was reinstated after he challenged his dismissal in court.

He took his battle in the media becoming assistant editor of the democracy movement’s monthly newsletter, Kele’a.

He was imprisoned for contempt of Parliament but later released by the Supreme Court ruling that the conviction was unlawful and unconstitutional.

He was later charged with sedition but was acquitted by a jury. It was over an article he published alleging the King had a secret fortune.

He was charged again with sedition after the Nukualofa riots.

In 2010, he set up the Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands and contested the 2010 elections. He scored 62.5 per cent of the vote in the Tongatapu constituency. The new party won 12 of the 17 seats for the People’s Representatives and threw his name in to contest the Prime Minister’s job.

Mr Pohiva became PM in 2014

Constitutional reforms had led to a historic change.

For the first time, the PM would be elected by Parliament instead of the monarch. He lost to the Nobels representative Lord Tu’ivakano 12-14 votes.

But he later resigned from Cabinet when some members were elected from outside of Parliament.

He was regarded as the defacto opposition leader.

He was the longest-serving People’s representative in the Tongan Parliament and has been in parliament since 1987.

The late Mr Pohiva had become an inspiration in the region because of his principled stand.

He respected Mr Bainimarama’s leadership.

The two leaders were elected PM the same year in 2014.

Mr Pohiva said then that he respected Mr Bainimarama for having the political will to make things happen.

He told the Tonga Daily News: “I admire him for that. He has been able to make things happen and take development to the people, which had not happened for years.

“He had the will to make things happen, to make reality of things that were planned over the years. He said every government needed to have the political will to implement positive changes.

“The lack of political will was a continuing problem in Tonga,” he said.

He had one thing in common with Mr Bainimarama.

He had to battle the kingdom’s hereditary nobility to reach the top job.

Mr Bainimarama had to overcome the resistance against change from certain quarters of the traditional iTaukei chiefly system.

Mr Pohiva’s legacy is about action on climate change and defending democracy. His death is a major loss to the region.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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