Tuvalu - Rise to power



Following general elections held on 25 July 2002, Saufatu Sopoanga was elected prime minister, replacing Koloa Talake, who was elected the fourth prime minister within two years, in December 2001 when parliamentary discontent with the policies of Prime Minister Faimalaga Luka led to a motion of no-confidence resulting in the dissolution of Luka's government. The motion of no-confidence ended a period of political instability that followed the unexpected death of Luka's predecessor, Ionatana Ionatana, on 8 December 2000. Sopoanga was the former minister of finance in the Talake administration, and he defeated opposition candidate Amasone Kilei in Parliament by eight votes to seven.

Sopoanga named Maatia Toafa deputy prime minister and minister of communications and transport; Bikenibeu Paeniu was named minister of finance, economic planning, and industries; Otinielu T. Tausi was named minister for home affairs and rural development; Alesana K. Seluka retained the post of minister of health, education, and sports; Samuelu P. Teo retained the position of minister for natural resources, environment, energy, and tourism; and Saloa Tauia became the speaker of Parliament. The official head of state is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the governor-general is Tomasi Puapua.

In February 2003 Sopoanga's parliamentary majority evaporated when he lost two supporters. Sio Patale's election for his seat as Member of Parliament for Nanumea was declared unconstitutional because his nomination papers were submitted late. His seat was declared vacant. The untimely death of the Speaker of the House, Saloa Tauia, further undermined Sopoanga's position. His minority government remained in power. A confidence vote would occur after the May 9, 2003 by-elections for the vacated seats in Nanumea and Niutao. Opposition candidates immediately began to canvass support. Speculation was that Luka would run again for top position if supported after the by-elections. Kilei had lost by one vote in the contest for prime ministership against Sopoanga. In May the by-election for Nanumea was won legally by Sio Patiale. For the island of Niutao, Taavau Teii was elected unopposed. Teii kept his allegiances secret, but finally declared for the opposition. The opposition claimed they could form a government. Opposition leader, Kelei, declared he was ready to take leadership. However, Sopoanga did not convene Parliament to elect a new speaker. The opposition reacted by calling upon the Governor General to reconvene Parliament.

Formerly, Sopoanga was a civil servant. From 1997-99 he was Acting Secretary to Government. In the Queen's Birthday Honours, June 13, 1998, he was awarded the Officer in The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his public service and for services to the community. In 2000, under Ionatana, he was again acting as Secretary to Government. In 2002, under Talake, he served as the Minister for Finance and Economic Planning and Minister for Tourism, Trade and Commerce. He did not serve under the Luka government in 2001.

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