7 Jun 2013

Nauru prepares for 'critical' elections this weekend

5:14 pm on 7 June 2013

Nauruans go to the polls tomorrow in what is being described as a critical election for the island.

There are hopes it will change the fractious political environment that has dogged the island for months.

Don Wiseman has more:

Nauru goes into the poll under a state of emergency imposed by the caretaker president, Sprent Dabwido, done partly he says, to stop leading politicians getting an unfair advantage through access to government media.

SPRENT DABWIDO: So I'm not banning media, as in they cannot talk to politicians. But before airing that, I'll see, because in the past, for so many years, politicians have used the nauru government media to promote themselves during elections. They're using government resources to get an advantage over other new candidates in each district, in each constituency.

Roland Kun, who had been Finance Minister, but opposed the state of emergency, says the president might claim there is no ban on interviews with politicians but that is the reality. There is a record number of candidates - 68 contesting the 19 seats in 8 districts - and Mr Kun says everyone is door-knocking.

ROLAND KUN: Including those who are spreading misinformation and will not be accountable for that misinformation because it is not said in the media where it can be recalled.

Another long-standing politician, Baron Waqa, says there is a clear desire on the island for change and the new parliament will look different.

BARON WAQA: There is an atmosphere of change and people are keen to see new people in Parliament. So, yes, it's a very tough election for those who have been in Parliament, as well, to try and retain their seat.

Baron Waqa says a pivotal issue for the new parliament will be how the dispersal of the remaining funds from Nauru's overseas investments is handled. These investments have been in receivership for years, but there is an amount of around US$80 million left over and it is due to go to the landowners.

BARON WAQA: Clearly, it belongs to the people and it's their money that was invested for them. And it's unfortunate that we lost a great deal through those dealings earlier on. And she has finally paid off everyone so the money now is ready and awaiting the decision of the incoming government, what to do with it.

For outgoing Speaker, Godfrey Thoma, the critical matter is a renegotiation of the deal with Canberra allowing the asylum seeker detention camp to be set up on the island. But his concern is not for the inmates, but rather that the benefits from the tens of millions of dollars Australia is spending are not being evenly shared around the island.

GODFREY THOMA: I think we would need to sit down again and go through all these arrangements with this camp - how the private sector is involved - that is important - and how much money goes into the Treasury Department. I am sure that would be a fair statement to make.

One vote, Briar Rose Alona, who is retired, thinks change is coming.

BRIAR ROSE ALONA: We're hoping for change. Perhaps there might be changes in the identity of our MPs, the new ones.

Results are expected to be made public on Sunday morning with the swearing-in of Parliament set tentatively for next Tuesday.