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22 Sep 2019 2:04
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  •   Home > News > International

    Nauru President Baron Waqa loses bid for re-election

    Baron Waqa loses the fight to retain his seat in his constituency in the national election, having seen his Government accused of artificially boosting its support by granting citizenship to Chinese nationals.


    Results from the Nauru Electoral Commission show the incumbent President of Nauru has lost his bid to return to power.

    Baron Waqa has not been re-elected for a seat in his constituency of Boe during the national election that took place on Saturday.

    The 59-year-old had held the presidential title since 2013.

    More than 7,000 voters were registered to take part in the poll to determine who will govern for the next three years.

    Voters elect members from their constituencies which make up Nauru's Parliament of 19 members.

    Those members will ultimately decide who should hold the presidency.

    In the run-up to the election, there was speculation that the country's Finance Minister, David Adeang, was bidding to oust Mr Waqa by backing a rival candidate in his constituency.

    Roland Kun, a former Nauruan minister who fled to New Zealand and now lives in Australia, told the ABC that new candidates had been installed in the Boe constituency before the election.

    "In Baron's constituency there's another candidate who has been put up by David Adeang, the Minister for Finance, and he's putting his support behind that candidate instead of his colleague in the Government," he said.

    "We know what that's about because from our standpoint, David is pursuing the presidency."

    "I think [the election result] is a very clear message that people do want change," he said on Sunday afternoon.

    Pacific expert Tess Newton Cain, who has worked for the United Nations and World Bank in the region, also highlighted the fact that two of the 19 members of parliament are women.

    "This is a significant achievement for Nauru in a region where women are not really well represented in national parliament."

    Mr Waqa was contesting his constituency against four other candidates, with two of them, Asterio Appi and Martin Hunt, elected to Parliament.

    Another candidate in his constituency Mathew Batsiua, a former foreign minister and member of the Nauru 19, was not elected and came fourth.

    Will the result impact Australia's offshore processing policy?

    Nauru became the site of Australia's first offshore processing centre in 2001 under the so-called "Pacific Solution".

    The country now draws a sizeable amount of its revenue from the visa fees it charges Australia per asylum seeker, payments and taxes associated with the regional processing centre, as well as aid.

    Mr Waqa's government favoured keeping the controversial centre open in Nauru, and the change in government now has the potential to significantly impact Australian asylum policy.

    "While the [offshore processing centre] makes significant contributions to the economy of Nauru, that is obviously declining as the centre gets smaller… I think whoever takes over government will be looking at what's next for Nauru in terms of replacing those revenue streams as they dwindle," Ms Newton Caine told the ABC.

    Mr Kun believed there would be no immediate changes to the offshore processing centre because the government still had no "fallback plan".

    Government accused of 'number-boosting'

    Mr Waqa's Government was accused of artificially boosting its support by granting citizenship to around 118 foreigners.

    One Nauru-born campaign worker told the ABC that these new citizens are mainly Chinese people employed by the Government.

    "It's been posted on Facebook, new names of these Chinese people," said a former Treasury worker who was dismissed for criticising Mr Waqa's Government and who asked to remain anonymous.

    "They've been approached with some sort of application with a police clearance and medical check-ups, and it's just like that, overnight you're a citizen."

    Ms Newton Cain said it was "hard to see how [the number boosting] couldn't have had an impact on the election."

    "There are only 7,000 voters in Nauru and as we can see from the results, a number of these seats are won by a very small number — in the hundreds in a number of cases.

    "Any additions to the roll are likely to have an impact," she said.

    Mr Kun said voters had been "very upset" by the new names on the electoral roll and had raised their concerns "all around the country" in the lead-up to the election.

    Joseph Cain, Nauru's electoral commissioner, told the ABC the new citizens had to be included in the electoral roll.

    "The gazette for these new citizens was published at 16.58 on 3 August, two minutes before the roll closed," he said.

    "Because the gazette was published before the close of the roll, I am required to obey the law and place these new citizens on the electoral roll."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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