ʻAkilisi Pōhiva

ʻAkilisi Pōhiva
Prime Minister of Tonga
Assumed office
30 December 2014
Monarch Tupou VI
Preceded by Sialeʻataongo Tuʻivakanō
Minister of Health
In office
4 January 2011  13 January 2011
Prime Minister Sialeʻataongo Tuʻivakanō
Preceded by Viliami Tangi
Succeeded by ‘Uliti Uata
Personal details
Born 7 April 1941
Political party Human Rights and Democracy Movement
(Before 2010)
Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands (2010–present)
Spouse(s) Neomai Pohiva
Alma mater University of the South Pacific

Samiuela 'Akilisi Pōhiva (born 7 April 1941) is a Tongan pro-democracy activist and politician. Pohiva, the leader of the Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands (DPFI), has served as the Prime Minister of Tonga since 2014. He is the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister.[1][2]

Personal life

Pōhiva worked as a teacher and later studied at the University of the South Pacific before joining the Tongan Teacher Training Staff.[3] He became active in Tonga's pro-democracy movement in the late 1970s, and in the early 1980s contributed to their monthly radio programme, "Matalafo Laukai".[4] 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.[4] He then became assistant editor of the democracy movement's monthly newsletter, Kele'a.

'Akilisi Pōhiva is married to Neomai Pōhiva.

Political career

Pōhiva is the longest-serving people's representative in the Tongan Parliament, having first been elected in 1987.[5] His political career has been 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.[6] He was subsequently released after the Supreme Court ruled that the imprisonment was "unlawful and unconstitutional".[7] In 2002 he was charged with sedition over an article published in his newspaper Kele’a alleging the king had a secret fortune,[8] but was acquitted by a jury.[9]

On 18 January 2007 Pōhiva was arrested over his role in the 2006 Nuku'alofa riots.[7] He was subsequently charged with sedition.[10] Hearing of the charges has been repeatedly delayed and is now not expected to occur until August 2008.[11]

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.[12] He was elected as People's Representative, with 62.5% of the vote in the constituency Tongatapu 1.[13] 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 duly elected with fourteen.[14]

Following the election and selection of a Prime Minister he accepted a position in the new Cabinet, as Minister for Health.[15][16] 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.[17][18][19] Although there is no formal Opposition, Pōhiva was, from then on, considered the de facto opposition leader.[20]

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.[21]


  1. Tora, Iliesa (2014-12-31). "Dawn of a New Era: Pohiva is the first elected commoner to be PM" (PDF). Tonga Daily News. Retrieved 2015-02-09.
  2. "Tongan democracy activist becomes first commoner elected as PM". ABC News (Australia). 2014-12-29. Retrieved 2015-02-09.
  3. Kit Withers. "Some Tongan Families: Aisea, Cocker, Pa'ongo, Pōhiva, Tauelangi, Vaioleti, Vaka, Vao". Retrieved 2010-01-17.
  4. 1 2 'I. F. Helu (1982). "Democracy Bug Bites Tonga". In Crocombe, ron. Culture & Democracy in the South Pacific. Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific. pp. 139–152. ISBN 982-02-0079-2.
  5. According to his profile at the Tongan Parliament he had served 18 consecutive years when re-elected in 2005.
  6. S ʻAkilisi Pōhiva, (2002). "Media, justice in Tonga" (PDF). Pacific Journalism Review. 8: 96–104.
  7. 1 2 Pro-democracy MP ʻAkilisi Pōhiva arrested, Pacific Media Watch, 18 January 2007
  8. Tonga's king centre piece in sedition court case against politicians and journalists, Michael Field, 13 May 2002.
  9. "MPs acquitted on sedition charges". The Age. 20 May 2003. Retrieved 2008-07-15.
  10. "Tongan pro-democracy leader released on bail, facing charges of sedition". Radio New Zealand International. 19 January 2007. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  11. "Eight candidates for Tonga's April General Election have pending court cases". Radio New Zealand International. 4 March 2008. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  12. "Another new political party emerges in Tonga as country prepares for 2010 elections". Radio New Zealand International. 6 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-07.
  13. Results for Tongatapu, Matangi Tonga, 26 November 2010
  14. "Lord Tu'ivakano becomes new Tongan prime minister", BBC, 21 December 2010
  15. "Tonga's prime minister names his cabinet". Radio New Zealand International. 31 December 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  16. "First meeting of Tonga's new Cabinet", Matangi Tonga, 5 January 2011
  17. Field, Michael (14 January 2011). "Tonga's democracy campaigner quits". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  18. "Democratic Party head resigns as Tongan health minister", Australia Network News, 14 January 2011
  19. "Tonga's PM accepts resignation of Akilisi Pōhiva from ministerial post". Radio New Zealand International. 14 January 2011. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  20. "Tonga leader unfazed by motion of no confidence", Radio New Zealand International, 20 June 2012
  21. "Tonga’s Pōhiva says Defender of Democracy Award important", Radio New Zealand International, 17 December 2013
Political offices
Preceded by
Sialeʻataongo Tuʻivakanō
Prime Minister of Tonga
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