Samuela 'Akilisi Pohiva

ʻAkilisi Pōhiva
Akilisi Pohiva ITU 2016.jpg
16th Prime Minister of Tonga
In office
30 December 2014 – 12 September 2019
MonarchTupou VI
DeputySiaosi Sovaleni
Preceded bySialeʻataongo Tuʻivakanō
Succeeded bySemisi Sika (acting)
Pohiva Tuʻiʻonetoa
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
20 January 2018 – 12 September 2019
Preceded bySiaosi Sovaleni
Succeeded bySemisi Sika (Acting)
Minister of Health
In office
4 January 2011 – 13 January 2011
Prime MinisterSialeʻataongo Tuʻivakanō
Preceded byViliami Tangi
Succeeded by‘Uliti Uata
Member of the Tongan Parliament
for Tongatapu 1
In office
26 November 2010 – 12 September 2019
Preceded bynone (constituency established)
Succeeded bySiaosi Pōhiva
Personal details
Samiuela ʻAkilisi Pōhiva

(1941-04-07)7 April 1941
Fakakakai, Haʻapai, Tonga[1]
Died12 September 2019(2019-09-12) (aged 78)
Auckland, New Zealand
Political partyDemocratic Party of the Friendly Islands
Other political
Human Rights and Democracy Movement
(before 2010)
SpouseNeomai Pohiva (died 2018)
Alma materUniversity of the South Pacific

Samiuela ʻAkilisi Pōhiva (7 April 1941 – 12 September 2019)[2] was a Tongan pro-democracy activist and politician. Pohiva, the leader of the Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands (DPFI), served as the Prime Minister of Tonga from 2014 to his death in 2019. He was only the fourth commoner to serve as Prime Minister (after Shirley Baker in the 1880s, Siosateki Tonga in the 1890s and Feleti Sevele in the 2000s), and the first commoner to be elected to that position by Parliament rather than appointed by the King.[3][4]

Personal life[]

Pōhiva worked as a teacher and later studied at the University of the South Pacific before joining the Tongan Teacher Training Staff.[5] He became active in Tonga's pro-democracy movement in the 1980s, and in 1981 he co-founded their monthly radio programme, "Matalafo Laukai".[6][7] In 1984, he was dismissed from the civil service as punishment for his criticism of the government; he subsequently sued them successfully for unfair dismissal.[6] He then founded the democracy movement's monthly newsletter, Kele'a, in 1986.[7]

Pōhiva was married to Neomai Pōhiva, who died in 2018.[8] Pōhiva died at Auckland City Hospital in New Zealand on 12 September 2019, from complications from pneumonia.[2]

Political career[]

Pōhiva was the longest-serving people's representative in the Tongan Parliament, having first been elected in 1987.[9] His political career was marked by constant battles with the Tongan monarchy over democracy, transparency and corruption. In 1996 he was imprisoned for contempt of Parliament on the order of the Legislative Assembly for reporting on Parliament's proceedings.[10] He was subsequently released after the Supreme Court ruled that the imprisonment was "unlawful and unconstitutional".[11] In 2002 he was charged with sion over an article published in his newspaper Kele’a alleging the king had a secret fortune,[12] but was acquitted by a jury.[13]

On 18 January 2007, Pōhiva was arrested over his role in the 2006 Nuku‘alofa riots.[11] He was subsequently charged with sion.[14] In the 2008 election he was re-elected for an eighth term as the No 1 Tongatapu People's Representative with 11,290 votes.

In September 2010, he established the Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands along with other Human Rights and Democracy Movement People's Representatives, in order to contest the 2010 elections.[15] His party secured twelve of the seventeen seats for People's Representatives (the other five going to independent candidates, while representatives of the nobility held an additional nine seats). He announced his intention to stand for the position of Prime Minister. Following constitutional reforms, this would be the first time the Prime Minister was elected by Parliament, rather than appointed by the monarch. The election for the premiership was held on 21 December, between Pōhiva and nobles' representative Lord Tuʻivakanō. Pōhiva obtained twelve votes, but was defeated by Tuʻivakanō, who was elected with fourteen.[16]

Following the election and selection of a Prime Minister he accepted a position in the new Cabinet, as Minister for Health.[17][18] On 13 January, however, he resigned from Cabinet, in protest against the inclusion in Cabinet of members from outside Parliament (to positions which he stated could have been entrusted to members of his party), and also to express his refusal to sign an agreement which would have prevented him from voting (in Parliament) against measures endorsed by Cabinet, based on the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.[19][20][21] Although there is no formal Opposition, Pōhiva was, from then on, considered the de facto opposition leader.[22]

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.[23]

Prime Minister (2014–2019)[]

The Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands won 9 of the 17 people's seats at the 2014 Tongan general election. Following the election, Pohiva was elected Prime Minister, defeating Samiu Vaipulu by 15 votes to 11.[4][24] He appointed a Cabinet of Commoners, with Maʻafu Tukuiʻaulahi as the only Noble's Representative.[25]

Pohiva's government made a controversial decision to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in early 2015,[26][27] but later reversed the decision over concerns that it could lead to same-sex marriage and abortion.[28] In February 2017 Pohiva survived a no-confidence motion, with his noble opponents only able to muster 10 votes in favour, against 14 in support of the government.[29] Finance Minister ʻAisake Eke abstained and was fired.[30][31]

On 25 August 2017 King Tupou VI sacked Pohiva and dissolved the Assembly and called fresh elections in the hope of getting a more tractable Prime Minister.[32][33] The resulting 2017 Tongan general election was a landslide for the DPFI,[34] and Pohiva was re-elected as Prime Minister, defeating former Deputy Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni 14 votes to 12.[35] His post-election Cabinet included one Minister from outside the legislative assembly, Dr Tevita Tu'i Uata.[36]

See also[]


  1. ^ Tahana, Jamie (12 September 2019). "Late Tongan PM 'Akilisi Pohiva remembered as 'beacon of democracy'". Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Tongan PM 'Akilisi Pohiva dies, aged 78". RNZ. 12 September 2019. Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  3. ^ Tora, Iliesa (31 December 2014). "Dawn of a New Era: Pohiva is the first elected commoner to be PM" (PDF). Tonga Daily News. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 February 2015. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Tongan democracy activist becomes first commoner elected as PM". ABC News (Australia). 29 December 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  5. ^ Kit Withers. "Some Tongan Families: Aisea, Cocker, Pa'ongo, Pōhiva, Tauelangi, Vaioleti, Vaka, Vao". Archived from the original on 13 February 2010. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  6. ^ a b 'I. F. Helu (1982). "Democracy Bug Bites Tonga". In Crocombe, ron (ed.). Culture & Democracy in the South Pacific. Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific. pp. 139–152. ISBN 982-02-0079-2.
  7. ^ a b Latu, Kalino (10 April 2016). "Born in poverty, but connected to royalty, his family say he was born to reform the nation". Kaniva Tonga. Retrieved 17 December 2021.
  8. ^ Latu, Kalino (17 December 2018). "Tonga's Prime Minister's wife Neomai dies". Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  9. ^ According to his profile Archived 21 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine at the Tongan Parliament he had served 18 consecutive years when re-elected in 2005.
  10. ^ S ʻAkilisi Pōhiva (2002). "Media, justice in Tonga" (PDF). Pacific Journalism Review. 8: 96–104.
  11. ^ a b Pro-democracy MP ʻAkilisi Pōhiva arrested Archived 31 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Pacific Media Watch, 18 January 2007
  12. ^ Tonga's king centre piece in sion court case against politicians and journalists Archived 14 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Michael Field, 13 May 2002.
  13. ^ "MPs acquitted on sion charges". The Age. 20 May 2003. Retrieved 15 July 2008.
  14. ^ "Tongan pro-democracy leader released on bail, facing charges of sion". Radio New Zealand International. 19 January 2007. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  15. ^ "Another new political party emerges in Tonga as country prepares for 2010 elections". Radio New Zealand International. 6 September 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  16. ^ "Lord Tu'ivakano becomes new Tongan prime minister", BBC, 21 December 2010
  17. ^ "Tonga's prime minister names his cabinet". Radio New Zealand International. 31 December 2010. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  18. ^ "First meeting of Tonga's new Cabinet", Matangi Tonga, 5 January 2011
  19. ^ Field, Michael (14 January 2011). "Tonga's democracy campaigner quits". Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  20. ^ "Democratic Party head resigns as Tongan health minister" Archived 14 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Australia Network News, 14 January 2011
  21. ^ "Tonga's PM accepts resignation of Akilisi Pōhiva from ministerial post". Radio New Zealand International. 14 January 2011. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  22. ^ "Tonga leader unfazed by motion of no confidence", Radio New Zealand International, 20 June 2012
  23. ^ "Tonga’s Pōhiva says Defender of Democracy Award important", Radio New Zealand International, 17 December 2013
  24. ^ "Akilisi Pohiva Tonga's new PM". RNZ. 29 December 2014. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  25. ^ "Tonga leader names one noble in Cabinet". RNZ. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  26. ^ "Tonga cabinet agrees to ratify CEDAW". RNZ. 10 March 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  27. ^ "Confusion abounds in Tonga's ratification of CEDAW". RNZ. 14 July 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  28. ^ "Tonga Govt sends CEDAW back to the public". RNZ. 6 February 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  29. ^ "Tonga's Pohiva survives no confidence vote". RNZ. 27 February 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  30. ^ "Tonga Finance Minister resigns". Radio New Zealand. 6 March 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  31. ^ Morrah, Michael (27 February 2017). "Tongan Prime Minister survives no-confidence vote". NewsHub. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  32. ^ "Tongan King dissolves parliament, calls fresh elections". RNZ. 26 August 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  33. ^ Jamie Tahana (13 September 2017). "Dissolution of Tonga parliament rouses democracy concerns". RNZ. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  34. ^ "Landslide victory for Democrats in Tongan election". New Zealand Herald. 16 November 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  35. ^ "Pohiva retains Tonga prime ministership". RNZ. 18 December 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  36. ^ "Prime Minister Pōhiva submits his cabinet lineup to the Tongan king". Asia-Pacific Report. 4 January 2018. Retrieved 20 June 2020.

External links[]

Legislative Assembly of Tonga
Constituency Established Member of Parliament
for Tongatapu 1

Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of Tonga
Succeeded by
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Siaosi Sovaleni
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Semisi Sika
Party political offices
New political party Leader of the Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands
Succeeded by
Semisi Sika