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Pacific News Minute: First Commoner Elected PM of Tonga Survives No Confidence Vote

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The first commoner elected Prime Minister of Tonga has survived an effort to oust him lead by the country’s Lords. Akilisi Pohiva won the vote of no confidence, and then fired his Finance Minister, who abstained on the ballot. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.


After three decades in opposition, Akilisi Pohiva came to power in 2014.  One Tongan Lord joined his government, but the others lead a parliamentary revolt that came to a head last week.

A motion of no confidence accused the Prime Minster of nepotism for hiring his son as his personal assistant, for wasting government money by paying Forbes Magazine $150,000 to publish an interview with him, and for damaging Tonga’s relations with Indonesia by speaking out in support of independence for West Papua.


When the vote was called, Prime Minister Pohiva carried the day, 14 to 10, but was reportedly surprised when Finance Minister Aisake Eke abstained. Over the weekend, the Prime Minister demanded Eke’s resignation. He had held the post as Finance Minister in two successive governments, and served many years before that as Secretary of Finance. The Prime Minister said he regretted the loss of experience, but that he expected the support of every member of his cabinet.


Malakai Koloamatangi of Massey University told the Tongan website Newshub that Prime Minister Pohiva could face another challenge within a few months.


“He has the wrong temperament for Prime Minister,” he said, “and should be worried about the numbers” in the vote.


Meanwhile, Lord Ma’afu – the one Tongan Lord who supports the Prime Minister has been frozen out by his peers.  According to the Kaniva Tonga website, the other 32 nobles signed an agreement to ostracize him.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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