Sir Toke Tufukia Talagi KNZM was born on 9 January 1951. He was a Niuean politician, diplomat, and statesman. He served as Premier of Niue from 2008 to 2020.
He was 69 years old.
Early life / Education
Talagi was born in Alofi and educated at the Tufukia School in Niue and Nelson College in New Zealand. He studied at Massey University in Palmerston North, where he completed a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. While there, he was elected president of the Pacific Island Student Association and organized protests against nuclear testing and racial discrimination. He married his wife and they had their first child. Upon returning to Niue, he worked as a livestock development officer. In 1977 he became a member of the Alofi South Village Council. He later became president of the Niue Public Service Association, and from 1981 to 1984 he was Niue’s first consul general in Auckland. On his return to Niue he was appointed Director of the Niue Economic Affairs Office, and was responsible for the development of the main infrastructure. After leaving public service, he became an airline and shipping agent. In 1992, he received a heart transplant and spent the following years living in New Zealand. In 1998 he became president of the Niue Rugby Football Union.
Talagi unsuccessfully ran for common office in the 1996 Niuean general election . He was elected to the Niue Assembly in the 1999 elections and was immediately appointed Associate Minister with responsibility for economic development and civil aviation in the Sani Lakatani Cabinet. In October 1999 he resigned his ministerial position over Lakatani’s plans to establish an airline and filed a motion of distrust against him. He spent the rest of the period as a member of the opposition. After the 2002 elections, he was appointed Minister of Finance and Tourism in Young Vivian’s Cabinet. In July of that year he was relieved of the tourism portfolio in a cabinet reorganization. He was later appointed deputy prime minister. As Minister of Finance, he was responsible for managing the recovery from Cyclone Heta and was the target of public criticism for the distribution of aid and the allocation of new homes. As a result, a common seat was narrowly lost in the 2005 elections, leaving Maihetoe Hekau two votes behind in the provisional results. The end result showed an exact tie, and Talagi was declared chosen after his name was taken from a hat. He was subsequently removed from the cabinet.
Premier Talagi was re-elected at the 2008 election, topping the common roll in what was seen as a vote for change. He was elected Premier on 19 June 2008, defeating Young Vivian by fourteen votes to five, with one abstaining. As Premier, he introduced a new consumption tax to balance the budget, established diplomatic relations with China, and attempted to negotiate with New Zealand for greater control of aid funding. When those negotiations were unsuccessful, he used the threat of seeking Chinese assistance to leverage a better deal. A major driver of his policies was to develop Niue and gain greater economic independence from new Zealand.In August 2008 Talagi became chair of the Pacific Islands Forum. At the 2008 Forum meeting in Niue he used the position to focus on climate change and the need for new elections in Fiji following the 2006 Fijian coup d’état.[The latter led to a diplomatic dispute with Fiji, calls for the Forum to split, and in May 2009, the suspension of Fiji from the Forum. At the next forum meeting in 2009 Talagi suggested that Fijians should take responsibility for their destiny and rise up against the military regime. In May 2009, Talagi co-chaired the 5th Pacific Alliance Leaders Meeting (PALM) with then Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso in Hokkaido.
Talagi was reelected in the 2011 elections and reelected as Prime Minister. In his second term, Talagi reformed the tax system and began free trade negotiations with China. He continued to press for stronger international action on climate change and announced an ambition for Niue to become 100% solar. In November 2011, Niue became a founding member of the Polynesian Leaders Group, a regional group aimed at cooperating on a variety of topics including culture and language, education, responses to climate change, and trade and investment. In 2013 he won a significant change by the New Zealand government in retirement portability, allowing Nuenses to collect New Zealand retirement in Niue. In early 2014, the Niuean Assembly rejected a proposal by Talagi to house asylum seekers for Australia as part of its Pacific Solution. He was re-elected Premier after the 2014 elections. In his third term, Niue planned to privatize his health system and celebrated 40 years of self-government. Talagi’s foreign policy continued to focus on climate change, and he began to push for membership in the United Nations. In 2015, he became the first Niuean leader to meet the Queen. In 2016, he was transferred to New Zealand twice for medical treatment.
In 2017, he announced that he would seek a fourth term as prime minister, saying he had “unfinished business” to attend to. He was reelected in the 2017 elections and again elected prime minister. In 2017 he again had an extended stay in Auckland for medical treatment, and the budget vote was lost as a result. His fourth term also saw disputes with New Zealand over pension portability and government accounts. In 2019, he spent several more months in Auckland recovering from illness, and upon his return, his brother Billy Talagi continued as acting Prime Minister. The term was closed when Niue lost control of its Internet domain and a damning audit report on government finances. Despite these setbacks, Talagi announced that he would seek a fifth term as prime minister in the 2020 elections. He kept a low profile throughout the campaign, and was unable to win a seat. He was replaced as Prime Minister by Dalton Tagelagi. In July 2020, Talagi was again transferred to New Zealand. He did so on July 15, 2020, shortly after returning to Niue.
He has died after a lengthy illness. The premier’s office said the 69-year-old died this afternoon. He had been flown to New Zealand last week for medical treatment, and returned on Sunday.