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Nauru: Majority of Voters Reject Changes to Constitution

(Mar. 3, 2010) On March 1, 2010, it was reported that two-thirds of the voters in Nauru had voted against proposed changes to the island nation's constitution in a referendum that was held on February 27, 2010. (Nauruans Vote Against Proposed Constitution Amendments, PACIFIC ISLANDS NEWS ASSOCIATION (PINA), Mar. 1, 2010, available at

The Constitution of the Republic of Nauru was adopted following the country becoming independent on January 31, 1968. A process of constitutional reform began six years ago, culminating in the referendum on 34 proposed changes contained in the Constitution of Nauru (Referendum Amendments) Bill 2009. (Id.) The constitutional review process was sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, and the proposals had resulted from public consultation. Members of Parliament voted unanimously in support of the proposals in August 2009. The referendum was the first to be held in Nauru. (Press Release, Republic of Nauru Government Information Office, Nauru Parliament Votes Unanimously to Change the Constitution (Aug. 25, 2009), available at

The bill sought to enhance the protection of human rights, provide for the election of the President by popular vote (rather than by Members of Parliament), clarify the roles of the President and Cabinet, and provide mechanisms for ensuring the stability and continuity of the government. (PINA, supra; Government of Nauru, Referendum 2010: Frequently Asked Questions, (last visited Mar. 1, 2010).)

Advocates of the proposed changes said that they were aimed at improving the transparency and accountability of public institutions, as well as making the constitution more relevant to the people of Nauru. (PINA, supra.) Supporters also hoped that the changes would end the volatile nature of politics in Nauru, where there has been 36 changes of government in the past 42 years. (Campbell Cooney, Nauruans Say No to Constitutional Change, ASIA PACIFIC NEWS, Feb. 28, 2010, available at

A two-thirds majority was required to approve the bill. However, of the nearly 4,400 votes cast (representing 78% of registered voters), almost 3,000 were in opposition to the bill. (PINA, supra.)

The Acting President of Nauru, Dr. Kieren Keke, expressed disappointment at the result of the referendum, saying:

The most disappointing thing in the result about the referendum in my mind is that all these amendments were passed by all members of parliament attending late last year. But a handful of opposition members of parliament actively went on a no campaign during the last week and were generating fear and uncertainty on a few things. (Nauru Leaders Disappointed with Referendum Rebuff, PINA, Mar. 1, 2010, available at

In particular, there was controversy regarding the power of the government to acquire land for public purposes. This power exists in the current constitution and the bill sought to amend it in order to provide greater protection for landowners. (Interview by Geraldine Coutts with Dr. Kieren Keke, Nauru Government Loses Referendum, RADIO AUSTRALIA, Mar. 1, 2010, available at

The constitutional review committee will now meet to discuss whether another referendum can be held. (PINA, supra.)