29 Dec 2014

Prominent Democrat Akilisi Pohiva Tonga's new PM

5:11 pm on 29 December 2014

Tonga's parliamentarians on Monday elected the veteran democracy campaigner, Akilisi Pohiva, as the country's new Prime Minister.

The secret vote was was 15 in favour of Mr Pohiva, to the 11 garnered by the independent MP and former deputy prime minister Samiu Vaipulu.

Today's election marks the end of an election cycle that began nearly five weeks ago with Tonga's second elections under a more democratic system.

Those democratic reforms had been advocated by Mr Pohiva since he began working as a teacher and broadcaster in the 1970s.

Tonga Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva.

Tonga Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva. Photo: RNZ

Mr Pohiva, the kingdom's longest serving MP who first came into the House in 1987, has often been at odds with the Tongan establishment, having been jailed on several occasions and losing jobs because of his political views.

But the Prime Ministerial vote indicates he got support from outside his Democratic Party, which has just 10 seats in the 26 member House.

A prominent publisher with links to the Democratic Party, Kalafi Moala, says the election of Mr Pohiva has ushered in a new era for Tonga's pro-democracy movement.

Mr Moala says the result is a popular one that's being greeted by cheers and the tooting of car horns in the capital, Nuku'alofa.

He says it also means the party will go into a new phase, having made up the opposition in the past.

"I believe that the party and the movement itself will reorganise and start to handle and try to manage something very new to them and that is to be in government. Everything that they have been in opposition to, everything that they have been critical of. They now have a chance in parliament to bring about those changes."