Nauru - Government

The country is governed by a unicameral Parliament consisting of 18 members elected at least triennially from 8 constituencies. Parliament elects the president, who is both chief of state and head of government, from among its members. The president appoints a cabinet from among members of Parliament.

For its size, Nauru has a complex legal system. The Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of Nauru, is paramount on constitutional issues, but other cases can be appealed to the two-judge Appellate Court. Parliament cannot overturn court decisions, but Appellate Court rulings can be appealed to Australia's High Court; in practice, however, this rarely happens. Lower courts consist of the District Court and the Family Court, both of which are headed by a Resident Magistrate, who also is the Registrar of the Supreme Court. Finally, there also are two quasi-courts--the Public Service Appeal Board and the Police Service Board--both of which are presided over by the Chief Justice.

There is a small police force under civilian control. There are no armed forces as such. Nauru does not currently have an embassy in the United States but does have a UN Mission in New York.


In Nauru, population 10,000, all politics is incredibly local. In recent decades, amid growing turmoil over Nauru's uncertain future and economic failures, no-confidence votes that spurred changes of government became commonplace. When Ludwig Scotty and a group of reformist colleagues won Nauru's 2004 election, toppling the government of then-President Rene Harris, the new government set out to correct a history of poor governance and corruption. The Scotty team's record was impressive enough that they won re-election by a landslide in August 2007. Later in the year, though, the Scotty coalition split asunder, with Ministers Keke, Pitcher, and others accusing Foreign Minister Adeang of corrupt practices related to a group of Chinese-Thai businessmen involved in Nauru's Bangkok consulate. In March 2008, the Stephen Government lost its thin parliamentary majority, and Adeang maneuvered to become

Speaker of Parliament. In the face of a seemingly intractable 9-9 split, Adeang called a session of Parliament over the Easter weekend, while Keke and Pitcher were in Australia and allegedly without a quorum, and pushed through legislation forbidding any MP from holding dual citizenship. Thereafter, he attempted to bar Keke and Pitcher, both dual Nauruan/Australians, from Parliament. President Stephen, head of the Police, refused to enforce the ploy. Both sides called on Nauru's Chief Justice, an Aussie judge who resides in Kiribati, to resolve the constitutional conundrum. The CJ ruled in the Stephen Government's favor.

The first several months of 2010 saw a political standoff between the government and opposition in Parliament and a number of efforts to resolve the stalemate. A constitutional referendum that proposed, inter alia, to introduce measures to ensure the stability of government failed to pass in February. After overcoming another in a series of no-confidence votes, the government in March called a snap election, which was held in April. The April elections returned the same parliamentarians; after weeks of negotiations, they elected a speaker who then resigned after a few days in office, leaving Parliament unable to elect a president.

By June 2010 Parliament remained in a stalemate, and caretaker President Marcus Stephen invoked a state of emergency, dissolved Parliament, and called a second election, which was held in late June. The June elections returned the same parliamentarians except for one, and the political standoff continued in the following weeks with Parliament still unable to elect a president. In July, President Stephen extended the state of emergency and adjourned Parliament until further notice. The stalemate ended in November 2010 with the election of opposition member and former president Ludwig Scotty as Speaker of the House. The state of emergency was lifted after Marcus Stephen was reelected President, defeating opposition member Milton Dube.

President Stephen governed until November 2011, when he resigned amid allegations of corruption. He was replaced by Frederick Pitcher, who served for 5 days before being removed by a no-confidence vote. Parliament then elected opposition member Sprent Dabwido, who previously served in Stephen’s government as Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications.

The first sitting of the 22nd Parliament was held on 13 and 14 July 2016. A full Parliamentary term is 3 years from the first sitting day (see Article 41(7) of the Constitution of Nauru). The Electoral Act has been amended to add an additional member for Meneng, which brought the total number of members of Parliament to 19 from the general election in June 2013. Nauru does not have a political party system, so all members of Parliament are effectively independent members. Whilst it is usual for members to form groups, the absence of party discipline meant that such groups have often been fluid and subject to change during the term of a Parliament.

The president of Nauru, the world's smallest republic, lost his seat after six years in power. President Baron Waqa was a strong supporter of Australia keeping refugees in a camp on Nauru soil. Waqa supported camps on Nauru on behalf of Australia, which provides about one-third of the country's revenue. Australia's policy of processing asylum applicants on Nauru has proved an economic lifeline for the country, which had sold out of its previous source of wealth: phosphate deposits used as fertilizer.

Critics claim Waqa's administration has been moving against dissent, introducing strict anti-protest laws, occasionally curbing access to social media, and hindering international media from reporting fully on conditions inside the refugee camp. In Nauru, the president needs to win a seat in the 19-people parliament before being eligible for the highest office. However, voters apparently backed two of Waqa's rival candidates in his electorate of Boe, keeping him out of the assembly.

Nauru's Parliament chose Lionel Aingimea as president on 27 August 2019, three days after elections in the tiny Pacific island nation. Aingimea won the presidency 12-6 over rival David Adeang. Aingimea, a lawyer trained in Australia, previously worked with the Regional Rights Resource Team, a nongovernmental organization. However, Aingimea subsequently worked in the Waqa administration, first as a senior public servant — then as an assistant minister for justice and border control.

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