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Parliament of Tuvalu

Parliament of Tuvalu
Seats 15 members
single-seat constituency
Meeting place
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The Parliament of Tuvalu or Palamene o Tuvalu is the unicameral national legislature in Tuvalu.

The Constitution of Tuvalu and the Law of Tuvalu

The Constitution of Tuvalu states that it is “the supreme law of Tuvalu” and that “all other laws shall be interpreted and applied subject to this Constitution”; it sets out the Principles of the Bill of Rights and the Protection of the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.[1][2] In 1986 the Constitution adopted upon independence was amended in order to give attention to Tuvaluan custom and tradition as well as the aspirations and values of the Tuvaluan people.[3][4] The changes placed greater emphasis on Tuvaluan community values rather than Western concepts of individual entitlement.[3]

Section 4 of the Laws of Tuvalu Act 1987 describes the Law of Tuvalu as being derived from: the Constitution, the law enacted by the Parliament of Tuvalu, customary law, the common law of Tuvalu and every applied law. ‘Applied law’ is defined in section 7 of that Act as “imperial enactments which have effect as part of the law of Tuvalu”.[4]

History of the parliament

The islands of Tuvalu came under Britain's sphere of influence in the late 19th century, when the Ellice Islands were declared a British protectorate by Captain Gibson R.N., of HMS Curacao, between 9 and 16 October 1892. The Ellice Islands were administered as a British protectorate by a Resident Commissioner from 1892 to 1916 as part of the British Western Pacific Territories (BWPT), and from 1916 to 1974 as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony.

In 1974, the Ellice Islanders voted for separate British dependency status. As a consequence Tuvalu separated from the Gilbert Islands which became Kiribati.[5] Tuvalu became fully independent within the Commonwealth on 1 October 1978. On 5 September 2000, Tuvalu became the 189th member of the United Nations.

The way in which legislation was created changed as Tuvalu evolved from a British protectorate to a British colony and eventually became an independent country:[6]

  • British protectorate of Gilbert and Ellice Islands – legislation was promulgated by High Commissioner of the Western Pacific;
  • British colony of Gilbert and Ellice Islands - legislation was promulgated by the Resident Commissioner (later Governor) of Gilbert and Ellice Islands;
  • British colony of Tuvalu - legislation was promulgated by the Governor of Tuvalu; and
  • Tuvalu – when it became an independent state and a parliamentary democracy – legislation is enacted by the Parliament of Tuvalu and becomes law following signature by the Governor-General of Tuvalu.

During the time of the British colony of Tuvalu until independence the parliament of Tuvalu was called the House of the Assembly or Fale I Fono. The parliament was first established when Tuvalu separated from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1975. Following independence in October 1978 the House of the Assembly was renamed the Parliament of Tuvalu or Palamene o Tuvalu.[7]

The elections to the parliament — then called the House of the Assembly — immediately before independence was the Tuvaluan general election, 1977; with Toaripi Lauti being appointed as prime minister on 1 October 1977. The parliament was dissolved in July 1978 and thereafter the government of Toaripi Lauti was acting in a caretaker capacity only until the Tuvaluan general election, 1981 was held.[7]

At the date of independence there were 12 members of the Parliament of Tuvalu.[8] The Electoral Act was amended in December 1999 to increase the membership of parliament from 12 to 15 MPs.[9] In August 2007 the Constitution was changed to increase the number of ministers from 5 to 7.[9][10]

Political culture of the parliament

The summoning of parliament

The summoning of Parliament is covered by section 116 (1) of the Constitution which states “Subject to this section, Parliament shall meet at such places in Tuvalu, and at such times, as the Head of State, acting in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet, appoints.” The question as to whether the Governor General has the power to summon Parliament without, or in disregard of the advice of Cabinet and, if so, the circumstances which could allow the use of that power, was considered in Amasone v Attorney General.[11]

The exercise of political judgment in the calling of by-elections and the summoning of parliament was again tested in 2013. Prime minister Willy Telavi delayed calling a by-election following the death of a member from Nukufetau until the opposition took legal action, which resulted in the High Court ordered the prime minister to issue a notice to hold the by-election.[12][13] The Nukufetau by-election, 2013 was won by the opposition candidate. The Tuvaluan constitutional crisis continued until August 2013. The Governor-General Iakoba Italeli then proceeded to exercise his reserve powers to order Mr Telavi's removal and appoint Enele Sopoaga as interim prime minister.[14][15] The Governor General also ordered that Parliament sit on Friday 2 August to allow a vote of no-confidence in Mr Telavi and his government.[16]

The role of a member of parliament

The role of the member of the Parliament of Tuvalu in the parliamentary democracy by established in the Constitution, and the ability of a Falekaupule (the traditional assembly of elders of each island) to direct an MP as to their conduct as a member, was considered in Nukufetau v Metia. The Falekaupule of Nukufetau directed Lotoala Metia, the elected member of parliament, as to which group of members he should join and when this directive was not followed the Falekaupule ordered Metia to resign as a member of parliament. When Falekaupule attempted to enforce these directives through legal action, the High Court determined that the Constitution is structured around the concept of a parliamentary democracy;[17] and that “[o]ne of the most fundamental aspects of parliamentary democracy is that, whilst a person is elected to represent the people of the district from which he is elected, he is not bound to act in accordance with the directives of the electorate either individually or as a body. He is elected because a majority of the voters regard him as the candidate best equipped to represent them and their interests in the government of their country. He is bound by the rules of parliament and answerable to parliament for the manner in which he acts. Should he lose the confidence of the electorate, he cannot be obliged to resign and he can only be removed for one of the reasons set out in sections 96 to 99 of the Constitution.”[18]

Non-partisan in nature with no formal political parties

There are no formal parties in Tuvalu: the political system is based on personal alliances and loyalties derived from clan and family connections.[19][9][7][20]

The Parliament of Tuvalu is rare among national legislatures in that it is non-partisan in nature. It does tend to have both a distinct government and a distinct opposition, but members often cross the floor between the two groups, resulting in a number of mid-term changes of government in recent years, such as followed the Tuvaluan general election, 2010.[19][9] Maatia Toafa was elected prime minister soon after the election, however on 24 December 2010, he lost office after a motion of no confidence, carried by eight votes to seven,[21] which had the result that a new ministry was formed by Willy Telavi.[22] Telavi retained a majority support in parliament following the Nui by-election, 2011, however the Nukufetau by-election, 2013 was won by the opposition candidate, which resulted in the loss of his majority.[23] A constitutional crisis developed when Telavi took the position that, under the Constitution of Tuvalu, he was only required to convene parliament once a year, and was thus under no obligation to summon it until December 2013.[24] However he was forced to call parliament following the intervention of the governor-general. On 2 August 2013 Willy Tevali faced a motion of no confidence in the parliament.[25] On 4 August the Parliament elected Enele Sopoaga as prime minister.[25][26] In 2015 the parliament was dissolved with a general election set down for March.[27]


A candidate for Parliament must be a citizen of Tuvalu of a minimum age of 21 years. Voting in Tuvalu is not compulsory. At 18 years of age, Tuvaluans are eligible to be added to the electoral rolls.[7] The parliament has 15 members, each of whom serve a four-year term. Each member is elected by popular vote in one of eight island-based constituencies: seven islands elect 2 members each, while Nukulaelae is represented by 1 member. The residents of Niulakita, the smallest island, are included in the electoral roll for Niutao.

The parliament is responsible for the selection the Prime Minister of Tuvalu from among their ranks and also the Speaker of Parliament by secret ballot. The Speaker presides over the parliament. The ministers that form the Cabinet are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Attorney-General sits in Parliament, but does not vote: the parliamentary role of the Attorney-General is purely advisory.[7] The current Attorney-General is Eselealofa Apinelu.

Any member of parliament may introduce legislation into parliament, but in practice, as in most partisan systems, this occurs mainly at the behest of the governing Cabinet. Legislation undergoes first, second and third readings before being presented to the Governor-General of Tuvalu for assent, as in other Westminster systems. One notable variation, however, is that legislation is constitutionally required to be presented to local governments (falekaupules) for review after the first reading; they may then propose amendments through their local member of parliament.[9]

The under-representation of women in the Tuvalu parliament was considered in a report commissioned by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in 2005,[28] In May 2010, a consultation entitled “Promoting Women in Decision Making” was held in Funafuti, as parliament at that time had no women MPs. The outcome was a recommendation for the introduction of two new seats, to be reserved for women.[29] This followed the example of Papua New Guinea, which had only one female MP at that time, and whose Parliament was considering a bill to introduce 22 seats reserved for women. The Tuvaluan Ministry for Home Affairs, which has responsibility for women’s affairs, stated that steps would be taken to consider the recommendation.[30]

Throughout the history of the parliament three women have been elected: Naama Maheu Latasi, from 1989 to 1997; and Pelenike Isaia who was elected in a by-election in the Nui constituency in 2011 that followed the death of her husband Pelenike Isaia, who was a member of parliament.[31] Pelenike Isaia was not re-elected in the 2015 general election. Dr Puakena Boreham was elected to represent Nui in the 2015 general election.[32][33]

The 2015 general election

The general election was held on 31 March 2015.[34][35][36] The state of emergency created by Cyclone Pam resulted in the election being delayed twice. The election was originally schedule for 19 March,[27] then after Cyclone Pam caused damage to the islands, the election was re-scheduled for 26 March.[37]

The other islands had contested ballots. The candidates for the constituencies of Niutao and Nui included former members of parliament.[38][39] On Nui Pelenike Isaia and Leneuoti Matusi were not returned to parliament.[40] On Nuitao Vete Sakaio, the deputy-prime minster, was not elected; the election was otherwise a good result for the government of Enele Sopoaga,[41] who expects to have the support of 11 members of parliament.[42] Otinielu Tausi, the Speaker of the previous parliament, was returned to parliament.[33]


Factions following the 2015 general election.[42]

Faction Members
Government 11
Opposition 4

Members of Parliament elected at the 2015 general election

New members of parliament are indicated with *

Constituency Members Faction
Funafuti Kausea Natano Opposition
Kamuta Latasi Opposition
Nanumaga Monise Lafai Government
Otinielu Tausi Government
Nanumea Maatia Toafa Government
Satini Manuella Government
Niutao Fauoa Maani Government
Samuelu Teo * Government
Nui Puakena Boreham * Government
Mackenzie Kiritome * Opposition
Nukufetau Enele Sopoaga Government
Elisala Pita Government
Nukulaelae Namoliki Sualiki Government
Vaitupu Apisai Ielemia Opposition
Taukelina Finikaso Government


  1. ^ "The Constitution of Tuvalu". PACLII. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "The Constitution of Tuvalu". Tuvalu Online. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Levine, Stephen (1992). "Constitutional Change in Tuvalu". in Australian Journal of Political Science 27: 492–509. 
  4. ^ a b Farran, Sue (2006). "Obstacle to Human Rights? Considerations from the South Pacific" (PDF). Journal of Legal Pluralism: 77–105. 
  5. ^ McIntyre, W. David (2012). "The Partition of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands" (PDF). 7 (1) Island Studies Journal. pp. 135–146. 
  6. ^ "PACLII". Government of Tuvalu. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Palamene o Tuvalu (Parliament of Tuvalu)" (PDF). Inter-Parliamentary Union. 1981. Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  8. ^ "Palamene o Tuvalu (Parliament of Tuvalu)". Inter-Parliamentary Union. 1998. Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Paulson Panapa & Jon Fraenkel (2008). "The Loneliness of the Pro-Government Backbencher and the Precariousness of Simple Majority Rule in Tuvalu" (PDF). Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  10. ^ "Palamene o Tuvalu (Parliament of Tuvalu)". Inter-Parliamentary Union. 2002. Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  11. ^ "Amasone v Attorney General [2003] TVHC 4; Case No 24 of 2003 (6 August 2003)". PACLII. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  12. ^ "Attorney General, In re Application under Section 131(1) of the Constitution of Tuvalu [2014] TVHC 15; Civil Case 1.2013 (24 May 2013)". PACLII. Retrieved 5 April 2015. 
  13. ^ Matau, Robert (June 2013). "Tuvalu’s high court orders by-election to be held". Island Business. 
  14. ^ Matau, Robert (1 August 2013). "GG appoints Sopoaga as Tuvalu’s caretaker PM". Island Business. Retrieved 8 August 2013. 
  15. ^ AFP, Report (2 August 2013). "Dismissal crisis rocks Tuvalu". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  16. ^ Cooney, Campbell (1 August 2013). "Tuvalu government faces constitutional crisis". Australia News Network. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  17. ^ "Nukufetau v Metia [2012] TVHC 8; Civil Case 2.2011 (11 July 2012)". PACLII. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  18. ^ "Nukufetau v Metia [2012] TVHC 8; [30]". PACLII. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  19. ^ a b Hassall, Graham (2006). "The Tuvalu General Election 2006". Democracy and Elections project, Governance Program, University of the South Pacific. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  20. ^ "Government of Tuvalu". Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  21. ^ "Nominations open for new Tuvalu PM". Radio New Zealand International. 22 December 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  22. ^ "Willie Telavi the new prime minister in Tuvalu". Radio New Zealand International. 24 December 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  23. ^ Matau, Robert (5 August 2013). "Tuvalu’s Opposition waiting to hear from GG". Islands Business. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  24. ^ "Parliament needs one yearly meeting only says defiant Tuvalu PM", Radio New Zealand International, 2 July 2013
  25. ^ a b Cooney, Campbell (4 August 2013). "Tuvalu parliament elects new prime minister". Australia News Network. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  26. ^ Cooney, Campbell (5 August 2013). "Sopoaga elected new PM in Tuvalu". Radio Australia. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  27. ^ a b "Two unopposed seats for Tuvalu election". Radio New Zealand. 4 March 2015. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  28. ^ Susie Saitala Kofe and Fakavae Taomia (2005). "Advancing Women’s Political Participation in Tuvalu" (PDF). A Research Project Commissioned by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  29. ^ "Women Need Support to Overcome Barriers Entering Parliament", Solomon Times, 11 May 2010
  30. ^ "Support for introducing reserved seats into Tuvalu Parliament", Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, May 13, 2010
  31. ^ "Tuvalu PM to remain in power", ABC Radio Australia (audio), 25 August 2011
  32. ^ "Cabinet position could await new Tuvalu MP". Radio New Zealand. 10 April 2015. Retrieved 10 April 2015. 
  33. ^ a b Pua Pedro & Semi Malaki (1 April 2015). "One female candidate make it through the National General Election" (PDF). Fenui News. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 
  34. ^ D’Unienville, Yvette (31 March 2015). "Tuvalu go to polls". Fenui News. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 
  35. ^ "Tuvalu: Tropical Cyclone Pam Situation Report No. 2 (as of 30 March 2015)". Relief Web. 30 March 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  36. ^ "Tuvalu elections to take place on Tuesday". Radio New Zealand. 30 March 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  37. ^ "Tuvalu: Tropical Cyclone Pam Situation Report No. 1 (as of 22 March 2015)". Relief Web. 22 March 2015. Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  38. ^ "Candidates for 2015 General Election". Fenui News. 27 February 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  39. ^ "Candidates for General Election for Nui Electoral District". Fenui News. 3 March 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  40. ^ "2015 General Election Results". Fenui News. 1 April 2015. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 
  41. ^ "Election looks set to return Sopoaga as Tuvalu's PM". Radio New Zealand. 2 April 2015. Retrieved 2 April 2015. 
  42. ^ a b "Sopoaga expects be sworn in as Tuvalu PM". Radio New Zealand. 9 April 2015. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 

See also

Template:National unicameral legislatures