by Philip Stöver*
The Marshall Islands, comprising about 30 atolls and 1,200 islets, is a small Republic located in the central Pacific, more than 2,000 miles Southwest of Hawaii. Having been a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands under US administration from 1947 and then associated to the United States by the Compact of Free Association, the Marshall Islands became officially independent on 22 December 1990. While general and free elections have taken place regularly since 1979, Marshallese politics are characterized by the permanence of forms of traditional leadership within a Western democracy.
The colonial history of the Marshall Islands began in the late 19th century. Claimed by Spain since 1874, the islands became a German protectorate in 1885. Following World War I the League of Nations mandated Micronesia, including the Marshall Islands, to Japan. After World War II, in 1947, the Marshall Islands became one of six districts of the Trust Territory and were since then governed by a High Commissioner appointed by the US President. The territory was largely used as a military basis, from which to protect American interests in the Far East. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted numerous nuclear tests, which directly affected the northern atolls of the Marshall Islands including Bikini. During this period the laws of the Trust Territory and the orders of the US Secretary of the Interior were prior to local legislation.
Nevertheless, advisory organs were established by executive orders from the United States Secretary of the Interior in the districts of the Trust Territory. As the first Territory-wide organ, the Congress of Micronesia was established in 1965 that closely followed the model of the United States with a Senate and a House of Representatives. The