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Kiribati Modern History

Kiribati became independent from the UK in 1979 and Ieremia Tabai became the country's first president. He was re-elected several times and sat on the post until 1991, when former Vice President Teatao Teannaki took over. Teannaki was replaced in 1994 by Teburoro Tito. Before the turn of the millennium, Kiribati moved the date limit so that the country's eastern parts became the first in the world to enter the new millennium. In 2003, Anote Tong was elected president. He was replaced in 2016 by Taneti Maamau.

In the 1960s independence began to be prepared for the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. However, the inhabitants of the Ellice Islands wanted their own state and in 1975 they broke out of the colony and formed the nation of Tuvalu. The other islands became independent on July 12, 1979 under the name Kiribati (which is pronounced "kiribas" and is the locals' version of the British "Gilberts"). The country's first president was Ieremia Tabai.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Kiribati. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The valuable phosphate at Banaba (see Ancient History) had finally run out of Kiribati independence. The phosphate quarry had largely destroyed the island and already during the Second World War they had evacuated about 1,000 runways to the island of Rabi in Fiji, where they still live. Prior to Kiribati's independence, Britain rejected the Bananas' request to form an independent state, funded with British damages for the destruction. In 1981, the railways accepted a British offer of ten million Australian dollars plus interest as compensation.

Ieremia Tabai was re-elected as President of Kiribati in 1982, 1983 (re-election) and 1987. When Tabai's term expired in 1991, according to the constitution, he could not be re-elected. Instead, former Vice President Teatao Teannaki was elected new president.

Contemporary History of KiribatiThe date line is moved

In 1994, the government fell into a distrust vote after several ministers were accused of abusing travel allowances. New elections were held and in the subsequent presidential election, opposition candidate Teburoro Tito won. His political grouping then merged with the grouping of the two representatives, and Maneaban Te Mauri (MTM) was formed.

Prior to the turn of the millennium, Kiribati decided on its own accord to move the date line east, so that the whole country ended up west of it. The easternmost island was renamed Millennie Island and the government tried to attract tourists to the place on earth that would thus first enter the new millennium. The opposition was later critical that despite great efforts, there was no large influx, but international media were in place and pictures of dancing Kiribati went out around the world when the New Year was celebrated.

MTM won the parliamentary elections in 1998 and 2002, and Tito won the subsequent presidential elections (see Political system). However, Tito's third term, which began in February 2003, was short-lived. The government was convicted in a suspicion vote in March of that year, after Tito refused to reveal the details of an agreement that had allowed China to build a disputed satellite monitoring facility on the main Tarawa tariff.

New elections were held in May 2003 and MTM again became the largest group, but in the presidential elections in July, Anote Tong, a candidate for the opposition group Boutokaan Te Koaua (BTK), won. Tong, an economist with a degree from the prestigious London School of Economics, won just over 1,000 votes, or 47 percent to 43 percent, over his brother Harry Tong, who was MTM's candidate.

Diplomatic ties with China are broken

In accordance with a election promise to close a Chinese satellite station, the president in November acknowledged Taiwan, which led to China breaking the diplomatic ties and closing the station (see also Foreign Policy and Defense).

In 2006, the Bananas representative in Parliament demanded that Banaba should leave Kiribati and join Fiji. The background was frustration that the compensation for the destruction of Banaba is being managed by the Kiribati government.

In the 2007 parliamentary elections, the ruling BTK prevailed and Tong was re-elected as president. His three counter-candidates also belonged to BTK or were allies with the party.

A visit to Tarawa by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in 2011 provided support for the recurring alarms on climate change, which the Kiribatians have long recognized as a threat to the country's survival (see Natural Resources and Energy). The UN chief participated in planting mangrove trees to hold back the sea that erodes the shoreline, and promised to try to extract funds from industrialized countries to counteract the changes.

The climate threat is in focus

Prior to the 2011 parliamentary elections, President Tong was criticized by political opponents who thought he was spending too much time and energy on climate policy issues. Rising living costs and corruption were issues that engaged people more, critics felt. However, Tong continued to push the climate issue and urged other countries, among other countries, to open their borders to Kiribati, who are forced to flee rising sea levels and lack of fresh water.

In the elections, BTK lost mandate but remained the largest grouping in parliament, while the newly formed KTK (Karikirakean Tei-Kiribati, see Political system) became second largest. A little over one third of the elected members voted for independence. According to analysts, the new parliament weighed fairly evenly between supporters and opponents of the incumbent government.

The main issues facing the subsequent presidential election were the attitude towards Chinese versus Taiwanese aid (see Foreign Policy and Defense), whether or not the price of copra (dried coconut) would increase (a rise was considered to adversely affect the economy of the poorer islands), increased.

Anote Tong won the election held in January 2012, albeit with a much smaller margin than in the previous election. The turnout was unusually high following a campaign in which the electoral commission traveled around the islands to get people to vote. About 40,000 of 60,000 potential voters chose to register and 68 percent of them voted.

In the government that Tong presented after the election victory, about half of the twelve ministers were new to their posts.

Fight against domestic violence

Tong attracted international attention in early 2013 when he announced that Kiribati would buy 6,000 acres of land on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji. Many thought it was about acquiring new territory for climate refugees, but Tong claimed that the purchase was made to guarantee the availability of food, not to move people.

Through a constitutional amendment in April 2013, a special ministry was established for women and young people, whose main task is to deal with the widespread violence against women and children. A report commissioned by the government in 2009 had shown that nearly 70 percent of the country's women had been abused by their spouses, close relatives or other men. In April 2014, the Parliament passed a law (Family Peace Act) with measures to reduce violence against women and children in the home. When it emerged in June of the same year that six women had been murdered by their husbands since the turn of the year, a national working group was appointed to strengthen respect for human rights and take stronger measures against domestic violence.

 
 

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