- Marshall Islands
The past twelve months in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) have been characterized both by the breaking of new political ground—including two votes of no confidence, cabinet shake-ups, and emerging diplomatic prospects—and by the reappearance of entrenched electoral, fiscal, and demographic challenges.
Certainly the most highly anticipated and watched political events of the last year were the two votes of no confidence filed against the administration of President Litokwa Tomeing, heading a coalition government led by the Aelon Kein Ad (AKA) majority party, within his first fifteen months in office. The first no-confidence vote was introduced to the Nitijela (Parliament) by Ebon Senator John Silk of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) on 14 October 2008, the last sitting day of the year's parliamentary session. In addition to Silk, thirteen other UDP members, including former President and current Jabat Senator Kessai Note, signed the motion, although in entering the motion they acknowledged that they lacked the minimum seventeen votes needed to unseat Tomeing. Among the list of reasons for the motion, the United Democratic Party cited deteriorating relations with the United States, the inaction on the part of the Tomeing government to respond adequately to the recent loss of jobs for Marshallese citizens at the US Army base on Kwajalein, failing to support a bill in the US Senate that would have ear-marked $4 million per year for the next fifteen years for health services to Marshallese from nuclear-affected atolls, and the administration's "refusal" to move forward with the newly approved Uliga Elementary School (Chutaro and Johnson 2008).
According to the RMI constitution, the Nitijela must vote within five to ten days after the submission of a no-confidence motion, regardless of whether or not Parliament is in session during that time. Sensing that the United Democratic Party did not have the votes necessary to prevail, Speaker Jurelang Zedkaia, a ruling AKA party member, convened the Nitijela on 21 October; after preliminary opening remarks, UDP chairman Ailinglaplap Senator Ruben Zachras withdrew the motion. The United Democratic Party was further embarrassed by the absence of one of the original signers of the motion, Majuro Senator Wilfred Kendall, who later explained that he failed to attend the meeting as he thought the vote would fail anyway. While significant as only the third no-confidence motion in RMI [End Page 137] history, this motion was also the first to be withdrawn before a vote was taken (Johnson 2008c; Yokwe Online 2008c).
The fourth no-confidence motion, however, proved to be much more provocative as well as more personal, both for the president and for a number of his cabinet members. The events leading up to the vote of no confidence of 18 April 2009 began two months earlier, when Minister of Foreign Affairs and Kwajalein Senator Tony deBrum publicly criticized President Tomeing in an open session of Parliament on 4 February. Citing a lack of confidence in the president's ability to negotiate successfully with the United States on the Kwajalein Land Use Agreement (LUA), deBrum also took a swipe at the president's closest political advisers and described a "cancer in this government" (MIJ, 2009l).
On 25 February, President Tomeing sacked deBrum as minister of foreign affairs in response to the public comments made three weeks earlier, and the president assumed the foreign affairs portfolio in the interim (Johnson 2009f). That same day, a letter signed by the fifteen members of the ruling AKA party, including the entire cabinet except for the minister of transportation and communications, Mejit Senator Dennis Momotaro (who was off-island at the time), was sent to the president's office, fervently calling for deBrum's reinstatement in the cabinet. As a result of the rift within the ruling party, the Nitijela session was suspended indefinitely, at the request of the president's office, so that the Speaker could make appropriate seating arrangements reflecting the removal of deBrum as minister (Johnson 2009b).
When the Nitijela reconvened its session on 10 March, deBrum promptly took his usual ministerial seat next to the president. Prior to the start of the assembly, however, deBrum was...