by Alexander Somoza
Kiribati, formerly known as Gilbert Islands, is a small island republic situated in the central Pacific Ocean. Under British rule until independence in 1979, it has since then experienced an uninterrupted period of constitutional and democratic governments. Political parties, however, are a rather recent phenomenon, which means that regular elections to the legislative and executive organs have long focused exclusively on individual candidates.
The British Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony was established in 1916 with four island groups, from which the Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Islands had mainly Micronesian population and the Ellice Islands predominately Polynesian population. The first general elections were held in 1967 for the colony's Legislative Council, which subsequently elected a Chief Minister as head of the colony's administration. By that time the British were preparing their withdrawal from the colony and seeking to gradually transfer the administrative duties to the islanders. The diverse ethnic background of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands generated rivalries over the distribution of the newly available public posts. After a referendum held only on the Ellice Islands in 1974 (later Tuvalu), both territories were separated.
This process went hand in hand with growing public interest for political issues and with the consolidation of the institutional set-up of the country. In 1974 Nabuoa Ratieta became the Gilbert Islands' Chief Minister. His supporters in the Legislative Council were grouped under the name National Progressive Party, though this was a mere label without any partisan organization. With the population's growing political awareness, Ratieta's and his government's stance started to be scrutinized more critically, and, with a cabinet drawn mainly from the northern islands' Catholic population, they were soon branded anti-labour and arrogant. The opposition in the Legislative Council gathered around