The Marshall Islands Parliament, known as the Nitijela, has 33 Senators. Marshall Islands has a mixed electoral system. There are 19 single-member constituencies, elected using the first-past-the-post system, and 5 multi-member constituencies which use Block Voting. Elections are held every four years. Since self-government, the Marshall Islands has had four presidents (the first of whom dominated politics for thirty years). Two main parties have emerged and competed in recent elections, namely the Ailin Kein Ad Party and the United Democratic Party.
According to the Nitijela website, the 1979 RMI constitution provides for a unicameral parliamentary system. However, the President is elected by members of the Nitijela (parliament), and serves as the head of state. A consultative upper house for traditional leaders known as the Council of Irooj Advises on customary issues. The Speaker, who is the head of the Nitijela, is elected from the membership of the Nitijela by a simple majority. By contrast, the removal of the Speaker requires a 2/3 majority vote.
Marshall Islands has only had a handful of women Senators since Independence, usually no more than one in each Parliament as was the case in 2007 (Senator Amenta Mathew who held the portfolio of Minister for Health), and in 2011 (Senator Hilda Heini who held the portfolio of Minister for Education).
In the November 2015 elections, a total of 98 candidates stood including 5 women candidates (5%), namely Hilda C. Heine (Aur district), Daisy Alik-Momotaro (Jaluit district), Evelyn Lanki (Majuro district), Amatlain E. Kabua (Namdrik district), Amenta Mathew (Utrok district). Of the 5 women who stood, 3 women won their seats: Hon. Hilda E. Heine, Hon. Daisy Alik-Momotaro, and Hon. Amenta Mathew., and made up 9% of the total 33 seats in the Nitijela.
On 4th January 2016, RMI voted in its youngest President, Mr. Casten Nemra, as its President by a narrow margin. However, the President-elect faced a no-confidence motion on Tuesday 26th January, after a period of unprecedented politicking, which saw the ousting of Mr.Nemra. On 27th January 2016, members of the Nitijela made history when they voted in Dr. Hilda Heine as the first female President of RMI, and indeed of any independent Pacific island nation. She won 24 of the 30 votes cast, with six parliamentarians abstaining and three absent from the 33-seat Nitijela.
Marshall Islands held its latest elections on 18 November 2019 to elect a new 33-member Nitijela, which will then go on to elect a president on 6th January of 2020. A contentious issue in the lead up to an unprecedented national election in the Marshall Islands has revolved largely around a controversial law banning off-shore voting that was recently declared unconstitutional by the country’s Supreme Court. The ban on postal absentee ballots for the estimated 30,000 Marshall Islanders living in the USA makes the 18 November national election unprecedented in the 40 years of constitutional government.
Unofficial election results from the Marshall Islands show that the balance of power has shifted from President Hilda Heine’s government to the Opposition. The Opposition now appears to have an outright majority of 17, and possibly more as the country awaits the announcement of complete unofficial vote tabulation results. By law, there is a two-week period after the announcement to allow candidates to file petitions for recounts or contest the results.
With 95% of votes reflected in unofficial results released on Saturday 23rd November, President Heine’s ruling group has lost 5 seats. Additional fallout from the 18 November election is the reduction in the number of women in the new parliament to two women out of 33 MPs. Both Daisy Aliklik-Momotaro and Amenta Mathew did not get re-elected whilst President Hilda Heine was re-elected, together with newly elected female MP Kitlang Kabua joining the Nitijela.
Hon Dr. Hilda Heine
Term: 2011-15, 2015-current
Political Status: Opposition Member