WELLINGTON: Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva has died at the age of 78. He helped wrest power from the royal family and bring greater democracy to the small Pacific island nation Tonga.
Pohiva died at the Auckland City Hospital at about 9 a.m. after being medically evacuated to New Zealand a day earlier. Prior to that, he had been hospitalized in Tonga for two weeks suffering from pneumonia before his condition turned critical, Senituli said.
“He will be remembered as the champion of democracy and being primarily responsible for the democratic reforms that were incorporated into the country’s constitution in 2010,” Senituli said.
Pohiva was also known for his fight against global warming. Archipelagos like Tonga, which is made up 171 islands and is home to 106,000 people, are particularly vulnerable to rising seas.
Pohiva spent more than three decades in office after he was first elected to Tonga’s parliament in 1987. In 2013, he became the first Pacific Islander to win the Defender of Democracy Award, presented by New York-based nonprofit Parliamentarians for Global Action.