'Akilisi Pohiva was a lifelong pro-democracy advocate who rose from humble beginnings to become the first prime minister of the South Pacific island nation elected by parliament rather than appointed by the monarch.
Tongan Prime Minister and pro-democracy advocate 'Akilisi Pohiva has died. He was 78.
Pohiva had been in poor health in recent years and for the past two weeks was hospitalized in a Tongan hospital with pneumonia. A day before his death he was rushed to Auckland City Hospital in New Zealand.
Born a commoner, Pohiva spent the early years of his life as a teacher before rising to become a champion of democracy on the South Pacific island nation ruled by a monarchy.
His lifelong political battles with the royal family over democracy and corruption saw him sacked from the public service, imprisoned and charged with sedition.
But he earned wide support from Tongans, who repeatedly voted him to parliament since he was first elected in 1987. He was the longest serving people's representative.
Constitutional changes eventually enabled Pohiva to become prime minister in 2014, making him the first commoner elected to the post by parliament rather than appointed by the monarch. He was reelected in 2017.
Despite his ill health, Pohiva attended the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu last month, where he advocated passionately for urgent action on climate change.
Tonga is a small Polynesian kingdom of about 170 islands and has a population of around 108,000.
cw/se (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)