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  • Rapa Nui
  • Lorenz Gonschor (bio)

Politics on Rapa Nui during the review period focused mainly on the organic law bill for the future special administrative status of the island. The bill was subject to continuous debates, until being finally introduced in Congress in a watered-down version. On the local political scene, the established politicians are clearing the way for a new generation of leadership, some very reluctantly, others more freely.

The process of replacing the political elite started in early June 2007, when pro-independence opposition leaders Mario Tuki and Raúl Teao won the highest numbers of votes in the elections to the Easter Island Development Commission (Gonschor 2008, 242). This electoral success boosted the ambitions of the opposition leaders, and their next campaign aimed at unseating veteran community leader Alberto Hotus from the presidency of the Council of Elders. Hotus, who is politically affiliated with the Chilean ruling center-left coalition, claims to hold the presidency of the council for life, even though this claim has never been universally accepted and has been an issue dividing the community for the last two decades.

The dissidents subsequently called for an election of the council's presidency, which was held in late August in semi-official fashion in a Hanga Roa school building. The three candidates were Mario Tuki, Leviante Araki, and Agterama Huki, all of whom are known for their pro-independence position and their bitter opposition to Hotus. The election was won by Tuki, but only a minority of about 200 voters participated. Alberto Hotus refused to participate or even acknowledge the election. When Chilean President Michelle Bachelet visited Rapa Nui for the annual ceremony commemorating the 1888 annexation of the island on 9 September, she was greeted by Hotus, presenting himself as the president of the Council of Elders. However, Tuki protested and tried to interrupt Hotus, arguing that it was he, Tuki, who was in fact the legitimate president following the election (TRN, undated article circa Sept 2007).

Many observers questioned the purpose of the election. In fact, neither Hotus's nor Tuki's interpretations is in line with the original purpose of the Council of Elders, which was to consist of the eldest representative of each family name existing on the island. These family representatives would then elect one among them as president. There is no basis for claiming the presidency for life, nor does it make sense to elect the president by popular vote. Furthermore, the position of president should not be that important in relation to the whole council, which is supposed to be a collective organ, representing each family. Shifting the focus to the presidency is thus a manipulation for political purposes [End Page 169] poses and a distortion of the council's intended function.

While factional political struggles continued with less intensity, the reform process of the island's political status was also slowly progressing. A constitutional reform to create the category of "special territories" outside the normal Chilean administrative system was passed on 5 June 2007 after being stalled in Congress for two years. President Bachelet signed the reform into law on 27 July, clearing the way for an organic law to specify a system of administration for the island (Gonschor 2008, 242). However, the process of drafting that bill was far from complete.

Over a period of several months during 2006, community workshops had produced a draft bill that was presented to the public in January 2007. This draft bill, which was extensively analyzed in last year's review (Gonschor 2008), proposed an island administration headed by a Santiago-appointed governor and a locally elected council with strong powers of control. It reserved both governorship and council membership to ethnic Rapanui. It also created a commission appointed by the Council of Elders to take over the management of all public lands from Chilean government agencies (Government of Chile 2007a). At the time of my visit to the governor's office in July 2007, Governor Carolina Hotu still considered this draft to be the basis for the final bill (Hotu, pers comm, 17 July 2007). But earlier, in a 28 February letter to Claudia Serrano, the undersecretary for regional...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 169-175
Launched on MUSE
2009-02-11
Open Access
No
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