Tuvaluan constitutional crisis

The Tuvaluan constitutional crisis was a political dispute in Tuvalu between the government, led by Prime Minister Willy Telavi, and the opposition, led by Enele Sopoaga, that was precipitated by the death of the Minister of Finance, Lotoala Metia MP on 21 December 2012, which eliminated the government's majority. The dispute was eventually resolved in August 2013 by a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Willy Telavi, following which Enele Sopoaga was elected Prime Minister.

Prime Minister, Willy Telavi, faced a constitutional crisis following the death of his Finance Minister in December 2012


Tuvalu is a parliamentary democracy. Queen Elizabeth II—as the Queen of Tuvalu—is the head of state, represented by the Governor-General, who is appointed (or removed) by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is elected by the members of the Parliament but it is within the Governor-General's reserve powers to unilaterally dismiss him.

The dispute began following the sudden death of the incumbent Member of Parliament for Nukufetau, Lotoala Metia, on 21 December 2012, resulting in both the government and opposition having seven representatives in Parliament.[1] Despite protests from the opposition, the ministry of the Prime Minister Willy Telavi delayed a by-election for the seat by more than six months, until June 2013, when the High Court of Tuvalu ordered that the by-election be held within 28 days of the judgment.[2] The decision was delivered by Senior Magistrate Afele Kitiona on behalf of Chief Justice Sir Gordon Ward.[3]

The decision was delivered following two separate legal challenges by both the government and the opposition that sought to determine the minister who was responsible for allowing elections to take place.[3] The ruling gave the opposition the necessary notices required to begin the by-election process in the constituency, which would allow them to gain a majority in parliament and, theoretically, pass a motion of no confidence in the government.[3] Opposition member and lawyer Taukelina Finikaso said the following after the ruling:[3] "We have certainly been working with our candidate and we are quietly confident we will be able to get through this by-election."



The by-election was eventually held on 28 June 2013 and opposition member Elisala Pita beat the government candidate Petely Niuatui by 537 votes to 264, giving the opposition an 8–7 majority over the government in the Tuvaluan Parliament.[4][5]

Nukufetau by-election, 2013
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Independent Elisala Pita  
(opposition candidate)
537 67.04 +40.45
Independent Petely Niuatui
(government candidate)
264 32.96 n/a
Majority 273 34.08
Opposition gain from Government

The constitutional crisis continued as the Prime Minister announced 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.[6]

Tuvalu's opposition then requested the Governor-General Sir Iakoba Italeli to intervene against the Prime Minister's decision.[7] On 3 July, Italeli exercised his reserve powers in ordering Parliament to convene, against the Prime Minister's wishes, on 30 July.[8] Opposition member Finikaso said: "It looks like we have seen the end of the uncertainty that reigned in Tuvalu for the last six months."[8] He continued by announcing that the opposition were planning to move a motion of no confidence in the incumbent prime minister and that they would put forward their candidate for the job.[8]

Reconvening of ParliamentEdit

In an attempt to avoid a vote of no confidence, Prime Minister Willy Telavi tabled a motion to dissolve Parliament, but this was subsequently defeated by the opposition by 8 votes to 5.[9] In a further twist, just minutes later, the government's Health Minister, Taom Tanukale, announced he was resigning his post, helping to dwindle government numbers further from five to four, following Education Minister Falesa Pitoi's absence due to illness.[9] Opposition member Finikaso described how the resignation 'shocked' parliament.[9]


Following the resignation of the Minister of Health, on 31 July 2013, the Speaker of the Tuvaluan Parliament Sir Kamuta Latasi announced he was adjourning Parliament for six weeks to allow for a by-election to take place in the Nui constituency.[10] The adjournment led to further hostility from the opposition, who hoped to move a vote of no confidence in Telavi, claiming that the Speaker has failed to "listen to the advice of the Attorney-General".[10] In response, Latasi claimed that the constitution does not allow for a vote if a constituency lacks representation, stating:[10]

If he [Telavi] is removed from Parliament he [Telavi] is removed by a two-thirds majority of the total membership. I have already acted on the advice of the Governor-General. The Governor-General has ordered that Parliament sit on the 30th of this month, which we sat yesterday. That order has been carried out by the Speaker of Parliament.

The Attorney-General told the opposition that despite the Health Minister's resignation, the motion of no confidence could still go ahead.[11] The Speaker's response prompted the opposition to seek assistance from the Governor-General for a second time so that parliament could be reconvened once again.[11] The opposition claimed that the prime minister had given no indication that he would call a by-election for Nui, which, in Tuvalu, the PM must do to allow an election to occur.[11][12]

Dismissal of Willy TelaviEdit

A day later, on 1 August 2013, Prime Minister Willy Telavi issued a public announcement where he informed the nation that he advised the Queen of Tuvalu, Elizabeth II, to remove Governor-General Itelali from his post.[13] Responding to this, Governor-General Italeli, acting on behalf of the Queen sent out a proclamation dismissing Telavi as the Prime Minister of Tuvalu.[13]

The Queen chose to delay officially accepting the Prime Minister's advice, though she cannot reject it outright. Until then, the Governor-General was still incumbent: "Up until now I have not received anything from Telavi so I have decided to use my own powers and make the proclamation," Italeli said.[13] Minutes later, Opposition leader Enele Sopoaga was appointed as acting prime minister.[13][14]

Although advice from the Prime Minister to the Queen is binding, she does have to officially accept or assent in order for it to go into effect. The Governor-General's office source said that no decision from Elizabeth II had been made yet as to whether Itelali's removal by Telavi would be accepted, and thus, at the time of dismissing Telavi, Itelali remained the incumbent Governor-General of Tuvalu.[15]

Willy Telavi defended his actions in not calling the by-election or recalling Parliament, and placed the responsibility for the constitutional crisis with Sir Iakoba Italeli, the Governor-General, who he says intervened only five days after the by-election, "Though he got the power to do that, we are a small country where we can consult each other without resorting to this kind of exercising of powers".[16]

Appointment of Enele SopoagaEdit

On Friday 2 August, Willy Tevali faced a motion of no confidence, the voting was eight for the motion, four against and one abstention - the Speaker abstained from voting on the motion.[17][18] The Governor-General ordered parliament to meet once again on the following Saturday to elect a new prime minister,[19] and a ballot held was won by the opposition leader by 8 votes to 5; following the vote Enele Sopoaga was sworn in as Tuvalu's new prime minister on 5 August 2013.[20][21] He appointed his new cabinet to the Sopoaga Ministry the same day.[21] A High Court challenged to Telavi's removal was considered,[22] but never eventuated.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Matau, Robert (January 2013). "Another by-election for Tuvalu soon?". Islands Business. Archived from the original on 2 May 2014. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  2. ^ "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.
  3. ^ a b c d Matau, Robert (June 2013). "Tuvalu's high court orders by-election to be held". Islands Business. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  4. ^ "Tuvalu's former PM Sopoaga has another shot". Islands Business. 10 June 2013. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  5. ^ "Tuvalu’s Opposition waiting to hear from GG" Archived 8 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Islands Business, 1 July 2013
  6. ^ "Parliament needs one yearly meeting only says defiant Tuvalu PM". Radio New Zealand International. 2 July 2013.
  7. ^ Coutts, Geraldine (2 July 2013). "Tuvalu opposition demands parliament be allowed to sit after weekend by-election". Radio Australia. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Matau, Robert (3 July 2013). "Tuvalu's parliament convenes July 30". Islands Business. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  9. ^ a b c Matau, Robert (30 July 2013). "Tuvalu govt bombshells". Islands Business. Archived from the original on 29 April 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  10. ^ a b c "Tuvalu Speaker defends adjournment for six weeks". Islands Business from RNZI/ Radio Australia. 30 July 2013. Archived from the original on 9 November 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  11. ^ a b c "Opposition seeks Tuvalu's GG's help again". Islands Business. 1 August 2013. Archived from the original on 9 November 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  12. ^ Cooney, Campbell (31 July 2013). "Tuvalu speaker blocks no-confidence motion". Australia News Network. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  13. ^ a b c d Matau, Robert (1 August 2013). "GG appoints Sopoaga as Tuvalu's caretaker PM". Islands Business. Archived from the original on 10 October 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  14. ^ AFP, Report (2 August 2013). "Dismissal crisis rocks Tuvalu". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  15. ^ Irvine, Chris (1 August 2013). "Tuvalu crisis as prime minister and governor-general try to sack each other". Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  16. ^ Cooney, Campbell (7 August 2013). "Former Tuvalu PM defends his actions before no confidence motion". Australia News Network. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  17. ^ Cooney, Campbell (4 August 2013). "Tuvalu parliament elects new prime minister". Australia News Network. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  18. ^ "Tuvalu opposition votes out government". Radio New Zealand International. 2 August 2013. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  19. ^ "Motion of no confidence debate underway in Tuvalu". Islands Business. 1 August 2013. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  20. ^ Cooney, Campbell (5 August 2013). "Tuvalu Sopoaga elected new PM in Tuvalu". Radio Australia. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  21. ^ a b "Enele Sopoaga Sworn-in Today as Tuvalu's New PM". Islands Business. 5 August 2013. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  22. ^ "New Tuvalu government waits on a legal decision", Radio New Zealand International, 6 August 2013