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Kiribati

Kiribati (pronounced "keer-ah-bhass") consists of 32 low-lying atolls and one raised island scattered over an expanse of ocean equivalent in size to the continental United States. Britain offered Kiribati an army; founding President Iremia Tabai said no thanks.

Kiribati, geographically huge but dramatically under-resourced, straddling the equator for 3000 miles with a total population of 100,000, cannot sustain itself. By 2008 President Tong was already talking with New Zealand about finding a new homeland for his people when atolls become inundated. Kiribati was the scene of a strange power struggle between China and Taiwan.

The islands, with a population (2011 est.) of 102,697, straddle the Equator and lie roughly halfway between Hawaii and Australia. The three main groupings are the Gilbert Islands, Phoenix Islands, and Line Islands. In 1995 Kiribati unilaterally moved its date line to include its easternmost islands, putting the country in the same date and time zone.

Kiribati includes Kiritimati (Christmas Island), the largest coral atoll in the world, and Banaba (Ocean Island), one of the three great phosphate islands in the Pacific. Except on Banaba, very little land is more than three meters above sea level.

This republic may rightfully be called "the most oceanic state" in Oceania one of the largest collection of islands in the world, scattered over the huge expance of the planet's largest ocean. The 33 atolls which comprise Kiribati extend from west to east for almost 4,000 kilometers, and from north to south for over 2,000. Yet their total area comprises only 823 square kilometers. As most of the other countries in the South Pacific region, Kiribati is among the smallest states in the world.

The Republic of Kiribati is located on an archipelago formed by three groups of coral islands: Gilbert, Line and Phoenix. Its name comes from the toponym adopted for the most populated group of islands by the Russian scientist and traveller, the honored academician I. F. Kruzenshtern in the 20's of the last century. Kiribati is the closest variant of the word "Gilbert" in the pronunciation of the local micronesian dialect. (T. Gilbert was one of the English researchers studying the archipelago).

The largest in population is Tarawa atoll (18,000 residents). The capital, Bairiki, is located here. The largest in size is Kiritimati atoll (364 square kilometers. Its former name was Christmas Island (Kirimati the Micronesian variant of pronunciation for the English word "Christmas"). The state is still very young. Its independence was declared on 12 July 1979. Prior to 1975 it had been the British colony of Gilbert and Ellis Islands, and from 1975 through 1979, after the residents of the Ellis Islands Polynesians - expressed the desire to create their own political formation (the state of Tuvalu), it was called Gilbert Island. The area of the populated islands is 719 square kilometers.

The original inhabitants of Kiribati are Gilbertese, a Micronesian people. Approximately 90% of the population of Kiribati lives on the atolls of the Gilbert Islands. Although the Line Islands are about 2,000 miles east of the Gilbert Islands, most inhabitants of the Line Islands are also Gilbertese. Owing to severe overcrowding in the capital on South Tarawa, in the 1990s a program of directed migration moved nearly 5,000 inhabitants to outlying atolls, mainly in the Line Islands. The Phoenix Islands have never had any significant permanent population. A British effort to settle Gilbertese there in the 1930s lasted until the 1960s when it was determined the inhabitants could not be self-sustaining.

Kiritimati Island / Christmas Island Pronounced Ki-ris-mas, Kiritimati Island has a large infilled lagoon that gives it the largest land area (125 square miles, 321 square km) of any atoll in the world. Captain Cook named the atoll Christmas Island when he arrived on Christmas Eve in 1777. Used for nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s, the island is now valued for its marine and wildlife resources. It is particularly important as a seabird nesting sitewith an estimated 6 million birds using or breeding on the island, including several million Sooty Terns. Rainfall on Kiritimati is linked to El Nio patterns, with long droughts experienced between the wetter El Nio years.

Kiribati Foreign Relations

Kiribati is conducting an active foreign policy and taking an active part in regional organizations. In August of 1985, Kiribati, together with 10 states and 2 territories was one of the first to sign the agreement to make the South Pacific a nuclear-free zone at the meeting of the South Pacific Forum. The decision of the forum was applauded by progressive forces throughout the world.

Kiribati became a member of the United Nations in 1999, and in September 2003, President Tong requested authority from Parliament to establish a UN mission. Currently, however, Kiribati does not maintain a resident ambassador in New York, and its vote is typically cast by New Zealand in a proxy arrangement. Kiribati also is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, Asian Development Bank, the Commonwealth, International Monetary Fund, the Pacific Community, and the World Bank. Kiribati is particularly active in the Pacific Islands Forum. The only Kiribati diplomatic missions overseas are a high commission in Fiji and an honorary consulate in Honolulu.

Kiribati maintains friendly relations with most countries and has particularly close ties to its Pacific neighbors - Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Cuba maintain resident diplomatic missions in Kiribati.

Multiple air-control centers covered portions of the vast Kiribati EEZ. The Fiji center controlled most air space over the Gilbert Islands group; and the FAA Oakland center controls most airspace over the Phoenix and Line Islands groups. Kiribati needs funding sources. It believed the Fiji center should share revenues, but Fiji refused to do so. Reportedly Australia and New Zealand have said that, if Kiribati can obtain the air-control rights in Fiji's hands, Australia and New Zealand would be willing to do the controlling, with the revenues flowing to Kiribati.

Relations between Kiribati and the United States are excellent. Kiribati signed a treaty of friendship with the United States after independence in 1979. In 2008, the United States and Kiribati signed a cooperative maritime enforcement agreement, or ship rider agreement, allowing I-Kiribati law enforcement officers to embark on select U.S. Coast Guard vessels and aircraft to patrol their waters. The United States has no consular or diplomatic facilities in the country. Officers of the American Embassy in Suva, Fiji, are concurrently accredited to Kiribati and make periodic visits. The U.S. Peace Corps maintained a program in Kiribati from 1967 until mid-2008.

Kiribati Government

The constitution promulgated at independence establishes Kiribati as a sovereign democratic republic and guarantees the fundamental rights of its citizens.

The judicial system consists of the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and Magistrates' Courts. The president makes all judicial appointments.

The unicameral House of Assembly (Maneaba) has 45 members: 43 elected representatives, one appointed member by the Banaban community on Rabi Island in Fiji, and the Attorney General on an ex officio basis. All of the members of the Maneaba serve 4-year terms. The speaker for the legislature is elected by the Maneaba from outside of its membership and is not a voting member of Parliament.

After each general election, the new Maneaba nominates at least three but not more than four of its members to stand as candidates for president. The voting public then elects the president from among these candidates. The president appoints a cabinet of up to 10 members from among the members of the Maneaba. Although popularly elected, the president can be deposed by a majority vote in Parliament. If a no confidence motion passes, a new election for President must be held. An individual can serve as president for only three terms, no matter how short each term is. As a result of this provision, former Presidents Tabai and Tito were constitutionally forbidden from serving as president again.

The Kiribati Constitution permits a President to be reelected twice. Within the constitutional limits, Parliament has repeatedly given sitting Presidents opportunities to run again, and Kiribati voters have repeatedly reelected incumbent Presidents.

Political parties exist but are more similar to informal coalitions in behavior. Parties do not have official platforms or party structures. Most candidates formally present themselves as independents. Campaigning is by word of mouth and informal gatherings in traditional meetinghouses. Kiribati parliamentary elections are nearly always decided on the basis of local issues and family ties. Thus, it is impossible for an outsider to predict results.

Kiribati Politics

In the 2002 parliamentary elections, held on 29 November and 6 December, 17 Boutokaan Te Koaua (BTK) candidates were successful while President Teburoro Titos Maneaban Te Mauri (MTM) won only 16 seats, and seven seats were taken by independents. Teburoro Tito then narrowly won the presidential poll in February 2003, defeating his principal rival, Taberannang Timeon, by some 550 votes.

Less than a month into his third (and necessarily final) term, President Tito lost a no-confidence vote and fresh elections were called. In the parliamentary elections in May 2003, MTM took 24 of the 40 elected seats and the BTK 16, the independents having joined parties. However, in the close presidential poll, in July 2003, Anote Tong of the BTK defeated the MTMs candidate, his younger brother Harry Tong, and formed a new government.

In Kiribati, elections saw switches of allegiance between Taiwan and the PRC, most recently in 2004 when President Tong came in and immediately recognized Taiwan. That caused the PRC to evacuate its presence, including a satellite-tracking station on South Tarawa. The PRC left behind a "caretaker" for its diplomatic properties, a person widely believed to be an intelligence agent. Having perceived signs of meddling in politics, Kiribati Immigration refused to extend the caretaker's visa.

Kiribati is the scene of a strange power struggle between China and Taiwan. Brothers Anote and Harry Tong were respectively the pro-Taiwan president and pro-China leader of the opposition. President Anote Tong's brother Harry, whom he defeated in 2003, has strong ties to the PRC and would likely switch back to the PRC if he came back into power.

Parliamentary elections were held on 22 and 30 August 2007. Independent candidates won in 19 of the 44 seats available in the two-round contest. BTK was the leading political party taking 18 seats, and MTM seven. The Kiribati general election's first phase took place on Aug. 22, with President Tong, Vice President Onorio, and five Ministers winning their parliamentary seats. The Tong coalition took 15 of the 18 seats decided.

In the October 2007 presidential elections, Anote Tong with 15,500 votes and 65% of votes was well ahead of his principal opponent, Nabuti Mwemwenikarawa (33%).

Following the election of a new parliament in October/November 2011 when President Tongs BTK won 15 seats, the Karikirakean Tei-Kiribati (KTK) ten, and the Maurin Kiribati Party (MKP) three; and 30 of the 44 members were re-elected the new legislature nominated three candidates to contest the presidential elections. President Anote Tong won re-election by a comfortable margin in January 2012 and has enjoyed a comfortable majority in Parliament. The biggest political issues of the day are climate change and employment opportunities for a crowded and growing population.

n the 2015 parliamentary election, the Pillars of Truth party won 26 of the 46 seats while the United Coalition Party and MKP together secured 19.

Three Kiribati parliamentarians faced off in the presidential election following the election of a new parliament in January 2016. The new president replaced Anote Tong who stepped down after filling the role for the maximum allowed period of 12 years. Two of the candidates belong to the long dominant Boutokaan Te Koaua, or BTK party, Rimeta Beniamina and Tianeti Ioane. Taaneti Mamau, the nominee of a coalition that formed in the new parliament, was elected President on 09 March 2016.

The unicameral House of Assembly or Maneaba Ni Maungatabu consists of 46 seats; 44 members directly elected in single- and multi-seat constituencies by absolute majority vote in two-rounds if needed. And 1 member appointed by the Rabi Council of Leaders - representing Banaba Island, and 1 ex officio member - the attorney general. Members serve 4-year terms. Legislative elections were held in two rounds - the first on 30 December 2015 and the second on 7 January 2016. The next are to be held in December 2019



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