Marshalls President Heine Faces no Confidence Challenge

Marshall Islands

The first and only female head of state of an independent Pacific island faces her first vote of no confidence next week. Eight senators introduced a motion of no confidence in Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine on Monday, the last of 50 sitting days for the parliament session this year. The constitution requires a vote be held between five and 10 days after a no confidence motion is lodged in the Nitijela (parliament).

Speaker Kenneth Kedi set Monday November 12 for the vote, which will be preceded by debate on issues behind the move by the opposition. Parliament is nearly evenly split among Ms Heine’s group and opponents in the 33-seat chamber.

Looming in the background – but not mentioned on Monday by Senator Casten Nemra among the five concerns motivating the opposition to action – is a push since early this year by local authorities of Rongelap Atoll to create a special investor haven.

Draft legislation proposed recently was rejected by the Heine administration for violating multiple constitutional provisions, laws and international financial transparency agreements between the Marshall Islands and countries around the world.

This plan to establish an investor haven by establishing a Rongelap Atoll Special Administrative Region was proposed by outside promoters and is backed by senators supporting the no confidence move against Ms Heine.

At Monday’s session of parliament, Mr Nemra read a list of criticisms of the Heine administration. Nemra, now in his first term in office, was briefly president in early 2016 before he was unseated by Ms Heine in a no confidence vote three weeks after his election in January that year.

Mr Nemra said the Heine administration’s plan to establish a digital currency as legal tender had tainted the country’s reputation and generated criticism from major financial organizations, including the International Monetary Fund and the US Treasury Department.

He also criticized Heine’s administration for what he described as unequal government service to outer islanders and removal of postal ballot voting for Marshall Islanders living outside the country.

The Heine administration’s engagement with donors, however, has caused grant funding to the Marshall Islands to skyrocket over the past two years. The World Bank alone now has over 10 projects in progress or in the pipeline worth over $100 million.

She has also been a key player globally on climate action and is scheduled to host a “virtual summit” of the Climate Vulnerable Forum on November 22 – an event put in doubt by the scheduled November 12 vote of no confidence.

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