A founder of Fiji's main opposition party has died after a long illness.
Pio Tabaiwalu was one of five candidates contesting the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) leader's position to be announced at the party's AGM next month.
SODELPA president Ratu Epenisa Cakobau announced Mr Tabaiwalu's death on Wednesday.
Ratu Epenisa said Tabaiwalu stood with principles, a man of wisdom and was very articulate.
He said traditional protocols are being observed and funeral arrangements had started
Tabaiwalu hailed from Serua and had studied in Fiji and the United Kingdom.
He had worked extensively in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs specialising in Multilateral and Regional Trade and ascended to the position of Deputy Secretary.
He was closely involved as lead negotiator on Fiji's trade agreements such as the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA), the Pacific Island Countries Closer Economic Relations (PACER) with Australia and New Zealand and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.
Tabaiwalu also served as a First Secretary (Economic and Political Affairs) at the Fiji Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and later as a Counsellor at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland and African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) matters at the Fiji Mission in Brussels, Belgium.
He was then appointed as Senior Trade Policy Advisor dealing with PICTA, PACER and EPA at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
Tabaiwalu was inducted into politics by former Prime Minister, the late Laisenia Qarase in early 2006 and was appointed as Minister of State in the Ministry of Trade and Commerce in the Qarase government until the military takeover in December 2006.
"Despite the harsh political environment after the 2006 coup, he remained steadfast in advocating for the respect of the rule of law, democracy and the economic development of grassroots people," Ratu Epenisa said.
"He was a founding member of SODELPA becoming its first general secretary and spearheaded preparations for the 2014 national elections after eight years of military rule."
Ratu Epenisa said SODELPA had lost a towering figure who was more than once the "conscience keeper of the Party, a pillar of strength and full of energy and hope, which were all very fine attributes of his leadership encouraging SODELPA members to continue the fight.
"His absence and the huge vacuum of knowledge and experience his demise has created is going to be felt in the Party for a long time. It is a painful task for me to bid farewell to a great personality like Mr Tabaiwalu.