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Political Profile

Source: From Michael R. Ogden, Ph.D. of the University of Hawaii (forthcoming in the World Encyclopedia of Political Systems, 3rd Edition. New York: Facts on File.). Some data were edited to reflect current information.

Nauru is an island republic of approximately 12,000 people in the western Pacific Ocean some 1,200 miles northeast of Papua New Guinea and one of the worlds smallest states. Until it was granted self-government in 1966 and full independence on January 31, 1968, Nauru was a United Nations trust territory administered by Australia on behalf of its fellow trust powers, New Zealand and Great Britain. It is an associate member of the Commonwealth, belongs to several U.N. agencies, and maintains an extensive consular network. Phosphate-rich Nauru has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, yet prospects for onshore development after the phosphate is mined out are poor. The Nauruans look to their government for wise management of the country's assets to secure their autonomy, way of life and livelihood in an uncertain future.

Nauru's constitution -- adopted on January 29, 1968, and amended on May 17, 1968 -- established it as a republic with a parliamentary system of government.

Parliament House of the Republic of Nauru The president is head of state as well as head of government. He is elected by the Parliament from among its members every three years. In his role as prime minister, he appoints four or five members of Parliament to join with him to form the cabinet. Cabinet ministers, including the president, take charge of the various government departments and are collectively responsible to Parliament.

The unicameral Parliament consists of eighteen members, who are elected every three years by resident Nauru citizens over the age of twenty. The Parliament chooses a speaker and a deputy speaker, as well as the president, from among its members.

A Supreme Court was established by the constitution and a District Court and a Family Court also operate. In most cases, the highest court of appeal is the High Court of Australia.

Nauru is divided into fourteen districts, which are grouped into eight electoral constituencies. Two representatives are elected in each constituency except Ubenide, which is composed of four of the smaller districts and has four representatives in Parliament.

The political system -- dominated by Hammer DeRoburt until his death on July 15, 1992 -- has been relatively stable. DeRoburt was the first and longest running president of Nauru, having served in this capacity from independence until 1989, except for a fourteen-month period between December 1976 and May 1978 when he was replaced by Bernard Dowiyogo (Lagumont Harris served for three weeks in 1978). However, after an August 1989 vote of no confidence deposed DeRoburt for the last time, he was replaced by Kenas Aroi, chairman of the Nauru Phosphate Corporation and former finance minister. Aroi held the presidency only until the general elections in December 1989 when Bernard Dowiyogo was again elected president. The consummate politician, DeRoburt also held the position of Head Chief of the Nauru Local Government Council continuously from 1955 until his death.

Electoral politics in Nauru has more to do with kin relationships than issues. Parliamentary factions form from time to time but, apart from the Nauru Party, which appeared briefly to oppose DeRoburt in 1976, there are no formal political parties.

Phosphate exports of about 1.0 million tons annually generate huge revenues for the Nauru government and allow it to levy no taxes and to provide free health and education services. Many of the material necessities of life, including water, are imported. At present rates of extraction, the phosphate will be worked out in the late 1990s. However, a significant proportion of the phosphate revenue has been invested in commercial enterprises and overseas real estate developments, thereby assuring some future income for Nauru. Nevertheless, Nauru will face considerable difficulties when the economic life of phosphate is exhausted.

In September 1991, Nauru became the fifty-second member of the Asian Development Bank, allowing it to participate in the bank's regional programs, a move which should allow access to funds for addressing the task of rehabilitating mined phosphate lands. Nauru has also withdrawn from several money-loosing joint ventures (one in India and another in the Philippines) in an attempt to better manage its financial resources.

Meanwhile, Nauru won its long standing court case against Australia -- and, by extension, the other partner governments that comprised the administering authority under United Nation trusteeship; namely New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The precedent setting decision handed down by the International Court of Justice at The Hague determined that Australia had failed to fulfill its "trust obligation" and therefore owed Nauru approximately Aust.$72 million in land rehabilitation damages for phosphate lands mined-out prior to independence.

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