Under the independence constitution of 1979, Kiribati became a sovereign and democratic republic with a unicameral legislature, the Maneaba ni Maungatabu. The President (Beretitenti, pronounced ‘Beresitence’) is both head of state and head of government, and is elected nationally, from nominations (from among its own members) made by the Maneaba ni Maungatabu. The cabinet consists of the President, the Vice-President (Kauoman-ni-Maungatabu), the Attorney-General (who is the government’s principal legal adviser) and up to eight other ministers. These ministers are appointed by the President from the members of the Maneaba ni Maungatabu.
The legislature has 44 members elected for four years by universal adult suffrage, plus one ex officio member (the Attorney-General) and one nominated member from the Banaban community in Rabi, Fiji, who have a right to enter and live on Banaba, and have their own Banaba Island Council.
Individual rights and freedoms are guaranteed under the constitution. In the event of dissolution of the legislature on a vote of no confidence, the constitution provides for an interim council of state, composed of the Chief Justice, the Speaker and the chairman of the Public Service Commission.
In the 2002 parliamentary elections, held on 29 November and 6 December, 17 Boutokaan Te Koaua (BTK) candidates were successful while President Teburoro Tito’s Maneaban Te Mauri (MTM) won only seven seats, and 16 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 MTM’s candidate, his younger brother Harry Tong, and formed a new government.
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, the legislature having been expanded from 40 to 44 elective seats in June 2007. BTK was the leading political party taking 18 seats, and MTM seven.
In the October 2007 presidential elections, Anote Tong – with 15,500 votes and 64 per cent of votes – was well ahead of his principal opponent, Nabuti Mwemwenikarawa.
Following the election of a new parliament in October/November 2011 – when President Tong’s 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.
The presidential elections, held in January 2012, were won by the incumbent, Anote Tong of the BTK (42 per cent), defeating Tetaua Taitai of the KTK (35 per cent) and opposition leader Rimeta Beniamina of the MKP (23 per cent).