Politics of Tuvalu
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politics and government of
The politics of Tuvalu takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic monarchy, whereby the Monarch is the head of state, represented by the Governor-General, while the Prime Minister is the head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government. Tuvalu follows the Westminster system of representative democracy although Tuvalu is a non-partisan democracy and elections in Tuvalu take place without reference to formal political parties.
Throughout the history of the Parliament of Tuvalu two women have been elected: Naama Maheu Latasi, from 1989 to 1997; and Pelenike Isaia who was elected in a by-election in the Nui constituency in 2011 that followed the death of her husband, Isaia Italeli, who was a member of parliament and the Minister of Works.
Tuvaluans participated in the political institutions of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony during the transition to self-determination. A referendum was held in December 1974 to determine whether the Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands should each have their own administration. As a consequence of the Ellice Islands self-determination referendum, 1974 the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony ceased to exist on 1 January 1976 and the separate British colonies of Kiribati and Tuvalu came into existence.
In 2008 Tuvaluans rejected a constitutional referendum that proposed replacing the Queen of Tuvalu, with an elected president as the head of state.
|Monarch||Queen Elizabeth II||N/A||1 October 1978|
|Governor-General||Iakoba Italeli||16 April 2010|
|Prime Minister||Enele Sopoaga||Independent||1 August 2013|
Queen Elizabeth II—as the Queen of Tuvalu—is the head of state, represented by the Governor-General, who is appointed by the Queen on advice of the Prime Minister of Tuvalu. The Prime Minister is elected by the members of the Parliament. The members also elect the Speaker of the Parliament of Tuvalu who is the presiding officer of the parliament. The Ministers that form the Cabinet are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, by tradition, is also the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Office of the Prime Minister supports the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and also has responsibility for the public service, the police, immigration, broadcasting and media. Tuvalu has the following ministries:
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Ministry of Health
- Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture
- Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Commerce
- Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning
- Ministry of Home Affairs and Rural Development
- Ministry of Local Government, Women and Youth
- Ministry of Works Communications and Transport
- Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Environment
Tuvalu maintains an independent judiciary consisting of a High Court, Magistrates Court on Funafuti and Island Courts and Lands Courts on each island. Appeals in relation to land disputes are made to the Lands Courts Appeal Panel. Appeals from the Island Courts and the Lands Courts Appeal Panel are made to the Magistrates Court, which has jurisdiction to hear civil cases involving up to $10,000. The superior court is the High Court of Tuvalu as it has unlimited original jurisdiction and hears appeals from the lower courts. Sir Gordon Ward is the current Chief Justice of Tuvalu. Rulings of the High Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeal of Tuvalu. From the Court of Appeal there is a right of appeal to Her Majesty in Council, i.e., the Privy Council in London.
The law of Tuvalu comprises the Acts voted into law by the Parliament of Tuvalu and statutory instruments that become law; certain Acts passed by the Parliament of England (during the time Tuvalu was either a British protectorate of British colony); the common law; and customary law (particularly in relation to the ownership of land).
The legislative branch is the unicameral Parliament of Tuvalu or Palamene o Tuvalu has 15 members, elected for a four year term in 7 double- and 1 single-seat constituencies. During the time that Tuvalu was a British Dependency the parliament was called the House of Assembly or Fale I Fono.
Democratic values in Tuvalu
Democratic values in Tuvalu are strong with free elections every 4 years by universal adult suffrage. There are no formal political parties so all candidates are non-partisan, and election campaigns are largely on the basis of personal/family ties and reputation. Tuvalu has "about 6,000 eligible voters" – a little over half the country's population.
Throughout the history of the parliament two women have been elected: Naama Maheu Latasi, from 1989 to 1997; and Pelenike Isaia who was elected in a by-election in the Nui constituency in 2011 that followed the death of her husband Isaia Italeli, who was a member of parliament and the Minister of Works. The under-representation of women in the Tuvalu parliament was discussed during a consultation entitled “Promoting Women in Decision Making” was held in Funafuti in May 2010. The outcome was a recommendation for the introduction of two new seats, to be reserved for women. The Tuvaluan Ministry for Home Affairs, which has responsibility for women’s affairs, stated that steps would be taken to consider the recommendation.
Members of Parliament have very close ties to the island they represent. Often the northern islands in the country compete against the southern islands with the center holding the balance of power. Traditional chiefs also still play a significant role in influencing island affairs, particularly on the outer islands. A long-held distinction between chiefs and commoners is slowly disappearing, and chiefs are now more often selected on merit rather than by birth.
Tuvalu does not face serious governance issues. The frequent use of the parliamentary vote of no confidence, engendering many changes of government in relatively short periods, has sometimes been on issues which reflect on the relations between personalities rather than on pressing national issues. The term of the prime minister in the period 1999 to 2004 was short. Bikenibeu Paeniu resigned as prime minister following the vote on a motion of no confidence on 27 April 1999. Ionatana Ionatana was elected as prime minister. After the death of Prime Minister Ionatana on 8 December 2000, Lagitupu Tuilimu was acting prime minister from 8 December 2000 to 24 February 2001. Faimalaga Luka became the prime minister on 24 February 2001 until he was replaced by Koloa Talake after a vote of no confidence on 14 December 2001. Koloa Talake was appointed prime minister until he was voted out of office as a result of the vote at the general election in August 2002. These changes of prime minister in part reflects the pressures affecting the small nation, including the transition from an exchange economy to a currency-based economy, an inherited system of government with only limited regard to Tuvaluan traditions of decision making.
Te Kakeega II is the statement of the national strategy for the sustainable development of Tuvalu, with goals intended to be achieved in the period 2005 to 2015. After consultations on each islands the National Summit on Sustainable Development (NSSD), was held at the Tausoalima Falekaupule in Funafuti from 28 June to 9 July 2004. The meeting resulted in the Malefatuga Declaration, which is the foundation of Te Kakeega II.
Following the elections held on 25 July 2002 six of the 15 members elected to Parliament were serving for the first time. Saufatu Sopoanga, a former civil servant, became prime minister in August 2002. It was expected that Tuvalu would have a period of political stability. However Saufatu Sopoanga resigned as prime minister and member of parliament on 25 August 2004 following the vote on a motion of no confidence. A by-election was held on 7 October 2004 and Saufatu Sopoanga regained his seat. Maatia Toafa was elected prime minister on 11 October 2004 and Saufatu Sopoanga became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Works Transport and Communication.
Apisai Ielemia became prime minister following the Tuvaluan general election, 2006 that was held on 3 August 2006. Many of the incumbent government ministers under the previous government of Maatia Toafa lost their reelection bids for the Tuvaluan Parliament.
The Tuvaluan general election, 2010 is the most recent election. Parliament was dissolved on 13 August 2010, and registration began on 28 August 2010. Twenty-six candidates, including all sitting Members of Parliament, stood for the fifteen seats in Parliament. In total, ten MPs were re-elected, while five incumbent MPs lost their seats.
Approximately one and a half weeks after the 2010 general election, a secret ballot was held on 29 September 2010 to determine the country's next prime minister. Incumbent prime minister Apisai Ielemia was not returned to a second term. Maatia Toafa won the ballot with eight votes to seven and become Tuvalu's prime minister. Toafa narrowly defeated Kausea Natano, who received the votes of seven MPs in the ballot. The election results were announced by Governor-General Iakoba Italeli and Toafa took office the same day.
Minister of Works Isaia Italeli died suddenly in July 2011, which led to a by-election in the Nui constituency the following month. The election was won by his widow, Pelenike Isaia, who became only the second woman ever to have sat in the Tuvaluan Parliament. The by-election was described as "pivotal", as Italeli's death had deprived Prime Minister Willy Telavi of his government's one seat majority in Parliament. Pelenike Isaia's election restored it, strengthening the government.
The dismissal of the government of Willy Telavi in 2013
Lotoala Metia, the Minister for Finance, died on 21 December 2012. The calling of a by-election was delayed until the High Court of Tuvalu ordered the Prime Minister to issue a notice to hold the by-election within five days after the judgment, which is delivered in 29 May 2013. The Nukufetau by-election, 2013 was held on 28 June. The Nukufetau by-election was won by the opposition candidate Elisala Pita. A constitutional crisis developed when Prime Minister Telavi responded that, under the Constitution, he was only required to convene Parliament once a year, and was thus under no obligation to summon it until December 2013. Tuvalu's opposition then requested the Governor-General Iakoba Italeli to intervene against the Prime Minister's decision. On 3 July the Governor-General exercised his reserve powers in ordering Parliament to convene.
When the Parliament met on 30 July, the Speaker (Kamuta Latasi) refused to allow a debate on a no-confidence motion in the government of Willy Telavi. The same day Taom Tanukale, the Health Minister, resigned from the Parliament (and thus also from the government). This resignation appeared to be political manoeuvre as Willy Telavi responded by insisting that Parliament should be suspended until a by-election was held and declined to call the by-election. In Tuvalu a by-election can only be called when requested by the Prime Minister.
The Governor-General Iakoba Italeli then proceeded to exercise his reserve powers to order Mr Telavi's removal and the appointment of Enele Sopoaga as interim prime minister. The Governor General also ordered that Parliament sit on Friday 2 August to allow a vote of no-confidence in Mr Telavi and his government. Telavi then proceeding to write to Queen Elizabeth II (as the head of state of Tuvalu) informing her that he was dismissing Mr Italeli from his position as Governor-General.
On Friday 2 August Willy Tevali faced a motion of no confidence; the voting was eight for the motion, four against and one abstention - the Speaker abstained from voting on the motion. On Sunday 4 August the Parliament elected Enele Sopoaga as Prime Minister; and Vete Sakaio was subsequently appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Public Utilities, Maatia Toafa was appointed the Minister of Finance and Economic Development and Taukelina Finikaso was appointed the Foreign Minister.
The Nui by-election was held on 10 September 2013. Leneuoti Maatusi was declared the winner, polling 297 of the 778 registered voters. Maatusi has been a civil servant and served as the Secretary of the Nui Falekaupule. He beat Palemene Anelu, a recent graduate of the University of the South Pacific, who received 206 votes and Taom Tanukale, the sitting member, whose resignation from Parliament caused the by-election, who received 160 votes. The government of Enele Sopoaga had a majority of two going into the by-election. After the by-election Leneuoti Maatusi committed to support Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga.
Tuvalu has no regular military forces, and spends no money on the military. Its police force includes a Maritime Surveillance Unit for search and rescue missions and surveillance operations. The police have a Pacific class patrol boat (Te Mataili) provided by the Commonwealth of Australia under the Pacific Patrol Boat Program for use in maritime surveillance and fishery patrols.
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