Nauru is a republic with a parliamentary democracy. It has an executive president as head of state and government. The parliament elects a president from amongst its members.
Executive authority is vested in the cabinet, which is collectively responsible to parliament. The president appoints a cabinet of five or six members.
Legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament. The unicameral parliament has 18 members who are elected by universal adult suffrage for a three-year term. Voting is compulsory for all citizens over 20, and it is mandatory for a parliamentary general election to be held not less than once every three years.
The 18 members of parliament represent eight constituencies. The number of representatives for each constituency is determined on the basis of population numbers. Nauru does not have a formal structure for political parties; most stand as independent candidates. Alliances within the government are often formed on the basis of extended family ties.
The constitution protects fundamental rights and freedoms. Special mention is made in the constitution of the allocation of profits and royalties from the sale of phosphate.
Land tenure in Nauru is unusual. Government and corporate entities do not own land and must enter into lease agreements. Non-Nauruans cannot own land.
The judiciary of Nauru is independent. The Supreme Court, which decides constitutional issues, is presided over by the chief justice and has original and appellate jurisdiction. The District Court, which hears civil and criminal cases and acts as the coroner, and the Family Court are both chaired by the magistrate.
Nauru, formerly known as Pleasant Island, is the world’s smallest independent republic island nation. It is also the only independent republic in the world that does not have an official capital.
The Nauruans had little contact with Europeans until whaling ships, traders and beachcombers began to visit regularly in the 1830s.
The island was allocated to Germany under the 1886 Anglo-German Convention. Phosphate was discovered a decade later and the Pacific Phosphate Company started to exploit the reserves in 1906, by agreement with Germany. The island was captured by Australian forces in 1914, became a mandate of the League of Nations in 1920, and was henceforth effectively administered by Australia. The governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand bought out the Pacific Phosphate Company and established the British Phosphate Commissioners, who took over the rights to phosphate mining.
During Japanese occupation in the Second World War, 1,200 Nauruans were deported to work as labourers. The survivors were returned to Nauru in 1946.
After the war, Nauru became a UN Trust Territory, and remained so until it became independent in 1968. Anticipating the exhaustion of the phosphate reserves, a plan by the partner governments to resettle the Nauruans on Curtis Island, off the north coast of Queensland, Australia, was put forward in 1964. However, the islanders decided against resettlement. Legislative and executive councils were established in 1966, giving the islanders a considerable measure of self-government.
In 1967, the Nauruans contracted to purchase the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners and in 1970 control passed to the Nauru Phosphate Corporation.
Sir Hammer DeRoburt became the first president of independent Nauru and went on to dominate parliament for the next 20 years, leading the government for most of the period. In 1989 he was ousted in a vote of no confidence.
In 1999 Nauru joined the UN as the world’s smallest independent republic.
In 2007 Ludwig Scotty was ousted in a vote of no confidence only a few months into his third term as president. Marcus Stephen was chosen by parliament to be president. Following his election Stephen had the support of only nine out of 18 MPs, resulting in a paralysis of government. Stephen declared a state of emergency and dissolved parliament. At the ensuing elections in 2008 the president’s supporters achieved 12 of the 18 seats; Stephen was re-elected president and the deadlock passed.
In April 2010, with the defection of three members, the deadlock returned. Negotiations and another election in June failed to secure a resolution. The deadlock finally ended in November when parliament re-elected Stephen as president.
Stephen stepped down as president in November 2011. In two parliamentary votes in November Freddie Pitcher defeated Milton Dube, only to be ousted by Sprent Dabwido less than a week later.