by Alexander Somoza
The island state of Tuvalu ('cluster of eight' or 'eight together') is situated in the central Pacific Ocean, north of Fiji and south of Kiribati. It consists of nine small atoll-islands—eight of which are permanently inhabited—and has an overall population of only about 10,000. Since its independence from British rule in 1978, the country has experienced an uninterrupted period of democratic government with regular parliamentary elections. Political parties do not exist.
The colonial history of Tuvalu began in the 1890s, when Great Britain started to install protectorates in the area of the Pacific Ocean. In 1916 it united two of these Protectorates in order to establish the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. The Colony then comprised today's Kiribati (Gilbert Islands) and Tuvalu, then known as Ellice Islands. It brought together populations of Polynesian (Ellice Islanders) and Micronesian origin (Gilbert Islanders). Gilbert Islanders outnumbered by far the Ellice Islanders. Until the 1960s, this constellation had no particular impact on the colony's politics, since all administrative duties were performed by the British. In 1967, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Order established a House of Representatives (re-named Legislative Council in 1971 and House of Assembly in 1974) and a Chief Minister as head of the colony's administration. Subsequently, first popular elections to the House were held.
With the establishment of the new institutions the Ellice Islanders became growingly aware of their minority position in the colony: of 23 seats in the new legislature they occupied only four. Many Ellice Islanders were convinced that they would never be able to influence government policy, that their islands would be starved of funds and their people denied opportunities for social and economic development. These sentiments fostered growing demands for separation from the Gilbert Islands. The British colonial administration made several concessions to the Ellice