Politics of Nauru

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Government of Nauru

Politics of Nauru takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Nauru is the head of government of the executive branch. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the parliament. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Political conditions


Nauru's economic viability has historically rested on its phosphate reserves. Phosphate — in actuality a resource derived from a 1,000-year cycle of bird droppings—has been mined on the island since 1906. In the 20th century, the small Pacific nation generated healthy revenues from this lucrative—but finite—resource.

The phosphate supply has virtually all been exhausted in recent years and as such, the future of the people of Nauru is uncertain, and the challenge for the country's policy makers will be to determine a path of continued economic prosperity, without the benefits of this resource.

Offshore banking

In this regard, the government has tried to develop the island into an offshore financial centre, imitating the success of the Bahamas and other island nations around the world that have emerged as major offshore banking centres. The government has also invested in property on other islands and the United States through its Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust.

Over the course of recent years, however, offshore banking institutions and instruments have come under increasing scrunity by international bodies seeking to make international finance a more transparent system. Nauru, as a result, has been a casualty of this movement.

In December 1999, four major international banks banned dollar transactions with Nauru.[1] The United States Department of State issued a report identifying Nauru as a major money laundering centre, used by narcotics traffickers and organised crime figures.

Shifting governments

The last few years has seen repeated changes of government. Nauru's unsettled political situation never led to civil disturbances; the transitions were always sanctioned by parliament and occurred peacefully.

President Bernard Dowiyogo took office in April 2000 for his fourth and, after a minimal hiatus, fifth stints as Nauru's top executive. Dowiyogo first served as president from 1976 to 1978. He returned to that office in 1989, and was re-elected in 1992. A vote in parliament, however, forced him to yield power to Kinza Clodumar in 1995. Dowiyogo regained the presidency when the Clodumar government fell in mid-1998.

In April 2000, René Harris, former chairman of the Nauru Phosphate Corporation, became president as he briefly assembled support in parliament. Harris' attempt to put together an administration lasted for only a few days of parliamentary maneuvering. In the end, Harris proved unable to secure parliament's confidence, and Dowiyogo returned yet again to the presidency by the end of the month.

Rene Harris was finally able to claim power as the president of Nauru in March 2001 when he was elected to the presidency by the parliament; his term was to last three years, presumably ending in 2004.

Environmental concerns

Phosphate depletion will likely be one of the most important considerations for the government in the next few years as the supply is forecast to be exhausted by 2003. Since Nauru imports almost everything it consumes (including food, water and fuel) the need to diversify the economy and to generate other sources of revenue is of paramount importance.

As noted above, offshore banking has been one arena into which Nauru has traversed, however, the rewards are limited by growing concern about the ethical parameters of this business. Tourism is another industry that is also being gradually built.

Yet another concern is the ecological damage that resulted from a century of phosphate mining. Along with the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand were responsible for the large scale and indiscriminate mining of phosphate on the tiny island for most of the 20th century.

The mining left an ecological and economic disaster for Nauru to handle when the country achieved independence in 1968. Not only was the country's principal resource and employment generating activity almost entirely depleted by the rapid mining done by the three countries, the mining companies had also failed to follow the basic principles of restoring and regenerating the lands where mining had been completed. Thus, Nauru was left to handle the immense and expensive task of restoring large chunks of land which were destroyed by the mining.

Nauru demanded compensation from the three nations, but was refused. Finally, in 1993, Nauru was forced to turn to the International Court of Justice at The Hague in The Netherlands. It filed a claim of $73 million against the three countries. The case was soon afterwards settled out of court by Australia, with Britain and New Zealand also contributing to the reparations sought by Nauru.

Today, Nauru is almost totally dependent on trade with New Zealand, Australia and Fiji. Arable land is very limited as are all other natural resources, now that its long-time economic base of phosphate mines has been almost completely depleted.

Foreign policy

On the international front, in late July 2002, Taiwan cut its diplomatic ties with Nauru. Taiwan and Nauru had shared diplomatic ties for 22 years; Taiwan has enjoyed diplomatic ties with several Pacific countries even in the face of the "One China policy" by Beijing. Nevertheless, this particular 22-year-long legacy was broken when Nauru's president decided to change its allegiance and establish formal relations with China. The move effectively shifted diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, thus angering the government of Taiwan, which described the shift in policy as "reckless."

Nauru's decision to recognise Beijing via the signing of diplomatic papers and a joint communque ultimately resulted in the cessation of Taiwanese aid. Nauru instead received a US$150 million aid package from Beijing.

In April 2005, during a state visit to the Marshall Islands, ROC President Chen Shui-bian met and spoke with the Nauruan President Ludwig Scotty. On 14 May 2005, the two countries signed the necessary documents to restore formal ties and reopen embassies.[2] The People's Republic of China consequently severed ties two weeks later on 31 May.

Internal disputes

In early 2003, a fight for power emerged between President Rene Harris and former President Bernard Dowiyogo. The power struggle occurred following a non-confidence vote in parliament, which effectively ejected Harris from the position of president. Reports suggested that Harris was ousted because of rising anxieties regarding economic mismanagement. At the time, Dowiyogo referred to Nauru's political scenario as being "critical."

It was reported that Dowiyogo became the president replacing Harris, however, information surrounding the shift in power was sparse. There was very little international coverage of the matter. Regardless, Dowiyogo's tenure did not last for long. In March 2003, Dowiyogo had heart surgery in the United States and died.

2003 – present

In May 2003, elections were held within the parliament to select a new president. In those elections, Ludwig Scotty gained the most support and became the new president. The actual results of the parliamentary vote were as follows: Ludwig Scotty—10 parliamentary votes, Kinza Clodumar—7 parliamentary votes. President Scotty became president on 29 May 2003. He served only until August 2003 when he was ousted in a non-confidence measure. Rene Harris was elected as president.

Meanwhile, in parliamentary elections held in May 2003, Nauru First Party won 3 seats and independents garnered 15 in total.

In late June 2004, Nauru's former parliament speaker Ludwig Scotty became the country's new president. His presidency followed the exit of outgoing President Rene Harris following yet another non-confidence measure.

For his part, Scotty had resigned as parliamentary speaker in April 2004 in protest of the Nauru's financial crisis which included the commencement of receivership proceedings by corporate giant, General Electric. During that period, Nauru faced the seizure of its assets if the country failed to honor its debt payments.

Since Scotty's resignation as parliamentary speaker, the parliament was unable to convene as members of parliament could not decide whom to appoint as his replacement. The scenario led to a political crisis, the financial crisis notwithstanding.

In mid-2004, the government of Australia sent envoys to help Nauru deal with its financial crisis. By August 2004, a report by the Australian Centre for Independent Studies suggested that Nauru might consider relinquishing its independent status in favour of becoming an Australian territory. The report called for radical economic reform as well as the restructuring of both governmental instruments and public service. The author of the report has offered Nauru economic advice in the past.[3]

Scotty was re-elected to serve a full term in October 2004. Following a vote of "no confidence" by Parliament against President Scotty on 19 December 2007, Marcus Stephen became the President. Following Stephen’s resignation in November 2011, Freddie Pitcher became President. Sprent Dabwido then moved a motion of no confidence in Pitcher, and Dabwido was duly elected President by the parliament, with nine votes supporting his nomination and eight votes opposing.

Elections for Parliament were held in 2013, after which Baron Waqa was elected by Parliament as President.

Crackdowns on Opposition politicians

In January 2014, Nauru's President Baron Waqa fired the country's only magistrate Peter Law[4] and its Chief Justice Geoffrey Eames (both Australian-based justices). Eames, himself, was fired after issuing an injunction to temporarily halt Law's deportation.[5][6]

In May and June 2014, Waqa suspended 5 of the 7 members of Nauru's Opposition from Parliament indefinitely.[7]

Three of the MPs, Mathew Batsiua, Kieren Keke and Roland Kun, were suspended in May 2014 for making comments to international media critical of the government and the alleged breakdown of the rule of law.[8] Another two, Sprent Dabwido (a former president) and Squire Jeremiah were suspended a month later for behaving in an unruly manner.[9]

In June 2015, Jeremiah, Dabwido, and Batsiua were arrested and Kun had his passport cancelled amid claims that they had been trying to destabilise the Government by talking to foreign media.[10][11]

Executive branch

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President of Nauru Baron Waqa Nonpartisan 11 June 2013

The Parliament elects a president from amongst its members, who appoints a Cabinet of 5–6 people. The President is both the head of state and head of government.

A series of no-confidence votes, resignations and elections between 1999 and 2003 saw René Harris and Bernard Dowiyogo as President for numerous short periods during a period of political instability. Dowigoyo died in office on 10 March 2003, in Washington, D.C., after heart surgery. Ludwig Scotty was elected President on 29 May 2003, but this did not bring to an end the years of political uncertainty as he was replaced by Harris a few months later. Scotty regained the presidency in 2004, only to be ousted in a vote of no confidence in 2007.[12]

Legislative branch

Nauru parliament

Parliament has 19 members, elected for a three-year term in multi-seat constituencies. Each constituency returns 2 members to the Nauruan Parliament, except for Ubenide which returns 4. Voting is compulsory for all citizens aged 20 or more.

Political parties and elections

For other political parties, see List of political parties in Nauru. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Nauru.

Nauru does not have a formal structure for political parties; candidates typically stand as independents. 15 of the 18 members of the current parliament are independents, and alliances within the government are often formed on the basis of extended family ties.[13][14] Four parties that have been active in Nauruan politics are the Nauru Party, the Democratic Party, Nauru First and the Centre Party.

 Summary of the 19 June 2010 Parliament of Nauru election results
supporters of Marcus Stephen 9
opponents of Marcus Stephen 8
Independent 1
Total 18
Source: Australia Network News

Judicial branch

Further information: Law of Nauru

For its size, Nauru has a complex legal system.[15] The Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice, is paramount on constitutional issues. Other cases can be appealed to the two-judge Appellate Court. Parliament cannot overturn court decisions, but Appellate Court rulings can be appealed to the High Court of Australia; in practice, 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 Appeal Board, both of which are presided over by the Chief Justice.[15]

Local government

Since 1992, local government has been the responsibility of the Nauru Island Council (NIC). The NIC has limited powers and functions as an advisor to the national government on local matters. The role of the NIC is to concentrate its efforts on local activities relevant to Naurans. An elected member of the Nauru Island Council cannot simultaneously be a member of parliament. Land tenure in Nauru is unusual: all Naurans have certain rights to all land on the island, which is owned by individuals and family groups; government and corporate entities do not own land and must enter into a lease arrangement with the landowners to use land. Non-Nauruans cannot own lands.

Armed forces

Australia is responsible for Nauru's defence under an informal agreement between the two countries. However, there is a 100-person regular police force under civilian command, backed by volunteer reservists trained to provide support in the event of serious unrest. While officers are typically unarmed while on routine patrol, the Nauruan police force does possess 23 firearms.[16][17][18][19]

See also


  1. http://pidp.org/archive/1999/December/12-21-up1.htm
  2. "ROC restores ties with Nauru after 3 years". The China Post. 15 May 2005. Retrieved 2010-06-22.
  3. http://www.paxgaea.com/HRNauru.html
  4. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-20/nauru-chief-justice-visa-cancelled-politically-motivated/5208540
  5. http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/233715/nauru-deports-chief-justice-and-magistrate-to-australia
  6. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-20/nauru-sacks-deports-australian-magistrate-chief-justice/5207600
  7. Radio NZ – Nauru opposition MPs still in limbo over suspensions – http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/programmes/datelinepacific/audio/20142835/nauru-opposition-mps-still-in-limbo-over-suspensions
  8. Radio NZ – Nauru's Govt suspends opposition MPs – http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/244277/nauru's-govt-suspends-opposition-mps
  9. The Guardian – Nauru Suspends Two More Opposition MPs – 5 June 2015http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/05/nauru-suspends-two-more-opposition-mps Nauru suspends two more opposition MPs ahead of budget hand down
  10. NZ Herald – Extra cops called in to protect Nauru Govt – 26 June 2015 http://m.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11468615
  11. Radio NZ – Arrested MPs to appear in court – 20 June 2015 http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/276754/arrested-nauru-mps-to-appear-in-court
  12. "MPs oust Nauru's president", Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 2007-12-19.
  13. Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Republic of Nauru Country Brief – November 2005. Retrieved 2006-05-02.
  14. "About Parliament", Parliament of Nauru Archived 19 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. 1 2 State Department Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs September 2005. Retrieved 2006-05-11.
  16. http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/nauru
  17. CIA World Fact Book. Retrieved 2006-05-02.
  18. http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2011/nauru
  19. http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/2013-10-02/citizen-reservists-trained-to-step-in-if-nauru-police-overwhelmed-again/1198880
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