This post was inspired by JD’s comment on a recent post, which said that “There is an executive type (which to my knowledge has only ever existed in Israel, from 1996 to 2002), which allows the assembly to remove both the *elected* chief executive and his cabinet, by majority vote, which automatically triggers an election – elected prime-ministerial.” However, this is not the case. There is one country that not only uses this form of government, and has done so since independence: the small Pacific island of Kiribati.
Under the Kiribati Constitution, the office of Beretiteni (President) is directly elected, using first-past-the-post. The President appoints ministers from the unicameral legislature (elected using the two-round system), which does not require parliamentary approval. Not unusually for the Pacific Islands, the Attorney-General has a specifically defined role in the Constitution, and I believe holds a legislative seat automatically because of his office.
However, section 2 of article 33 states
(2) The Beretitenti shall cease to be Beretitenti-
(a) if he resigns his office, by notice in writing addressed to the Speaker;
(b) if a motion of no confidence in the Beretitenti or the Government is supported in the Maneaba ni Maungatabu by the votes of a majority of all the members of the Maneaba;
(c) if, in respect of any matter before the Maneaba, the Beretitenti notifies the Speaker that a vote on that matter raises an issue of confidence, and in a subsequent vote on that matter it is rejected by a majority of all the members of the Maneaba;
(d) if he ceases to be a member of the Maneaba otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of the Maneaba
If, under the provisions of 2a, the Beretiteni is removed from office, the Council of State (a body consisting of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, the Speaker of the legislature, and the Chief Justice) takes office.
This is where article 78 kicks in.
78. (1) The Maneaba ni Maungatabu (legislature) shall stand dissolved-
(a) if a motion of no confidence in the Beretitenti or the Government is supported in the Maneaba by the votes of a majority of all the members of the Maneaba; or
(b) if, in respect of any matter before the Maneaba, the Beretitenti notifies the Speaker that a vote on that matter raises an issue of confidence, and in a subsequent vote on that matter it is rejected by a majority of all the members of the Maneaba.
As I read it, this would rule out a change in government as a result of a no-confidence vote, as such a vote would automatically dissolve the legislature.
Following a general election, a ballot for Beretiteni is automatically scheduled. The Constitution stipulates that
The Maneaba (legislature) shall after the election of the Speaker nominate, from among members of the Maneaba, not less than 3 nor more than 4 candidates for election as Beretitenti, and no other person may be a candidate
Ordinary legislation is used to govern this election. As far as I can tell, the Borda count was used up to 2002, with voters being allowed to number only four candidates. However, in 2002, the legislation was amended (due to Borda being “complicated” and easy to manipulate) to have a rather unusual variant of the two-round system. In the first round, the two candidates with the most votes are declared nominated for the Presidency, while in the second round all other candidates are voted on; the top two of these are also declared nominated.
Kiribati is unusually stable for a Pacific Island country. Since independence in 1979, there have been only five Beretitenis (excluding leaders of the Council of State who took an interim role in government) compared to eleven Prime Ministers of Vanuatu since 1980 and eight Prime Ministers of Fiji since 1983.
It also has a party system, though it is fairly weak. The Elections Ordinance makes no mention of political parties (except in a section prohibiting advertising from parties in a perimeter around the polling station); however, election results suggest that a substantial number of MPs are affiliated with political parties, as are Presidential candidates. What is confusing about the parties is that the literature I have read suggests that they nominated multiple candidates for the Presidency, which seems like very odd behaviour for a political party.
The first President to lose the confidence of the legislature was Ieremia Tabai. He was re-elected as President in 1982, but without a legislative majority aligned to him. By making a minor bill a matter of confidence, he was able to dissolve the legislature, with opposition MPs apparently going along unsure of the consequences. The result was Tabai’s re-election, and a much more compliant legislature.
Tabai’s successors, Teato Teannaki, was removed by a vote of no-confidence, and did not run in the 1994 election. His successor, Teburoto Tito, lasted longer, winning three elections, but a poor result by his party in the legislative elections of 2002 meant that his narrow 2003 victory was swiftly followed by a no-confidence vote. In the elections held later in 2003, the Pillars of Truth party won 16 out of 41 seats, to 14 for the Protect the Maneaba. The remaining seats were won by candidates not affiliated to one of the parties. The following Presidential elections saw Pillars of Truth candidate Anote Tong win, narrowly.
Tong was elected two more times, serving his full term both times. His Pillars of Truth party was the largest party in both elections, though without a majority. However, the fairly fluid party system meant that he was able to avoid no-confidence votes.
At the last election, Tong was term-limited (only three terms are allowed), and he was replaced by Taneti Maamau. He is a member of the Tobwaan Kiribati Party. I am not sure how the legislative seats were distributed; the Inter-Parliamentary Union site gives this group 19 seats to 26 for Pillars of Truth; however, this figure looks like it redistributed independents to the two parties. Either way, the figure suggests that Maamau does not have especially strong support in the legislature.
So, where does this odd constitutional arrangement come from? Well, in preparation for independence, the colonial governor of Kiribati arranged a Constitutional Convention, comprised of 165 members from different parts of the county which he appointed, in order to design a more appropriate constitution. While this was met with protest within certain circles of the British colonial administration, most of the decisions of the convention were adapted in the constitution.
The goal of having an elected President appears to have been to create a figure above parochial local politics, a worthy aim, especially in the Pacific. No-confidence votes leading to elections also might give MPs pause for thought, and lead them to consider negotiation before toppling the President. While I am unsure to what extent Kiribati’s constitutional model has led to its relative stability, it is certainly worth a look for other Pacific states.
Note: Information for this post was sourced from the second volume of Nohlen’s Elections in Asia and the Pacific as well as Atoll Politics: The Republic of Kiribati edited by Howard Van Trease and Politics in Kiribati edited by Taomati Iuta.