René Harris won the presidency on 30 March 2001 after a no-confidence vote in Parliament removed his predecessor, Bernard Dowiyogo, from office. At the time of the vote, Dowiyogo was in Australia undergoing bypass surgery. Both Harris and Dowiyogo are typical of political leaders in the small island nation. Both have occupied the office of president more than once, and both have alternatively been allies and rivals over issues challenging the country. Harris first entered Nauru politics in 1977 when he became a member of Parliament; since then he has held a number of government posts, including the powerful chairmanship of the Nauru Phosphate Corporation.
From 27 April 1999 to 20 April 2000, Harris held the office of president. He called for new elections in April 2000 and won; however, he was unsuccessful at forming a government, and he resigned six days after the election. His opponent, Bernard Dowiyogo, prevailed, taking office as president for the fifth time. On 30 March 2001, while Dowiyogo was in Australia receiving medical treatment, the Parliament called a no-confidence vote and returned Harris to the presidency. In addition to holding the office of president, Harris also held the ministerial portfolios for foreign affairs, public service, investments, industry, works, planning, and housing development, home affairs, and civil aviation.
In October 2001, Harris was airlifted to Australia, reportedly suffering complications from diabetes.