30 Apr 2020

Kiribati voters wanted fresh ideas says new MP

11:36 am on 30 April 2020

By Lisa Williams

A new Kiribati MP says voters wanted fresh ideas and progress.

This month Kiribati voters ushered in 16 new Members of Parliament who will take their oaths and vote in a President in May.

Dr Tinte Itinteang leaves medicine for politics, just over a year after returning from academic posts in Australia and NZ

Dr Tinte Itinteang leaves medicine for politics, just over a year after returning from academic posts in Australia and NZ Photo: supplied

Among the new line up is doctor-turned-politician, Tinte Itinteang , who moved back to Kiribati last year from a research and teaching post with Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

The new Betio MP, serving in one of the most overpopulated and challenging areas of Kiribati, said the election results revealed voters wanted to see fresh impetus to the ongoing wish for better lives.

"I don't know if it's a sign people wanted something new, as opposed to wanting fresh ideas to be brought to the fore within parliament," Dr Itinteang said.

"I think it poses a fresh and striking challenge (for parties vying for the majority) and it's something the people of Kiribati should look forward to."

He said while it was difficult to talk about how the Covid-19 pandemic would impact his work as a parliamentarian, Dr Itinteang said there were unique circumstances calling for solutions that were slightly out of the box.

"Hopefully the new parliament will be able to address these issues in a way that will save the lives of the Kiribati people."

"What is most important in a country like Kiribati is not to get lost in the details but to focus on the challenges that we face as a country, as a nation," he said.

"I think we shouldn't really stray too much from the challenges and how we face that as a group."

Dr Itinteang said the people of Kiribati elected their leaders and the sense of ownership and responsibility fell on the 44 MPs to try and make a positive difference.

Deal making begins

The intense part of post-election campaigning had now changed focus to potential power alliances between the key political parties.

There was only a few seats difference and numbers were neck-and-neck at the polls between the key parties.

One of them lost its leader, so the deal making was expected to intensify as MPs worked with what their electorates gave them the green light to do.

The option of forming an entirely new political bloc, with its own leader, was also a possibility, if the older parties with more history didn't provide the incentive to attract Dr Itinteang and others like him.

Dr Itinteang said he was independent and was already in negotiations and meetings, with more talks likely as MPs across the archipelago gathered in Tarawa ahead of the new parliament being called.

Parliament House in Kiribati

Parliament House in Kiribati Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

Journey from medicine to politics

"To be honest, I've never actually been interested in politics," said the 44 year old.

"But what was obvious to me from the start, once I started working here last year, was the need to make a difference."

Having focused on medicine and research in Australia and New Zealand, his return to service in the health system of his homeland was where he thought he would make the biggest difference.

Based in Betio, a high-population part of Tarawa hosting government buildings and the national port, Dr Itinteang had a front seat view of the challenges confronting healthy futures for the households crammed into his electorate.

"I'm proud my people of Betio have selected me to help make their lives better. The problems are immense, but hopefully we can make a difference, a step at a time."

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Dr Itinteang wants to make life better for people in Betio Photo: UNDP