Tonga’s prime minister, a long-time democracy campaigner, Akilisi Pohiva, died Thursday in an Auckland hospital a day after being airlifted from the Pacific kingdom to receive treatment for pneumonia, local media reported.
The 78-year-old had suffered from ill health for years and his office issued a statement Wednesday urging people to pray for him.
Multiple news sources, including Radio New Zealand and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, reported that Pohiva died on Thursday morning at Auckland City Hospital.
Officials in Tonga could not be contacted and the country’s embassy in New Zealand refused to comment on the reports.
Pohiva, a former history teacher, was a pioneering campaigner for greater democratic representation in Tonga, which remains a monarchy heavily influenced by the royal family and nobles.
He was elected to parliament in 1987 and became prime minister in 2014 after reforms that gave ordinary voters more say in their government.
King Tupou VI effectively sacked him in 2017 by dissolving parliament and calling a snap election, but Pohiva defied expectations to win a second term.
Despite ill health, he remained active in office and last month attended the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, where he lobbied for urgent action on climate change.