The president is elected by the Nitijela from among its members. Presidents pick cabinet members from the Nitijela. Amata Kabua was elected as the first president of the republic in 1979. Subsequently, he was re-elected to 4-year terms in 1983, 1987, 1991, and 1996. After Amata Kabua's death in office, his first cousin, Imata Kabua, won a special election in 1997. The current president was elected and took office in October 2009.
The legislative branch of the government of the Marshall Islands consists of the Legislature (Nitijela) with an advisory council of high chiefs. The Nitijela has 33 members, elected for a four year term in 19 single-seat and five multi-seat constituencies. Members are called senators. The Legislature was last elected 17 November 2003 without the participation of parties, though part of the members could be members of the United Democratic Party.
Political parties and elections
Traditionally there have been no formally organized political parties; what has existed more closely resembles factions or interest groups because they do not have party headquarters, formal platforms, or party structures; the following two "groupings" have competed in legislative balloting in recent years - Kabua Party (Imata Kabua) and the United Democratic Party or UDP (Litokwa Tomeing).
The Republic of the Marshall Islands has four court systems: Supreme Court, high court, district and community courts, and the traditional rights court. Trial is by jury or judge. Jurisdiction of the traditional rights court is limited to cases involving titles or land rights or other disputes arising from customary law and traditional practice.
Citizens of the Marshall Islands live with a relatively new democratic political system combined with a hierarchical traditional culture. The first two presidents were chiefs. Kessai Note is a commoner.
There have been a number of local and national elections since the Republic of the Marshall Islands was founded, and in general, democracy has functioned well. There have been some incidents of human rights concern, however, such as undue government pressure on the judiciary and the press.
The United Democratic Party, running on a reform platform, won the 1999 parliamentary election, taking control of the presidency and cabinet. The new government has publicly confirmed its commitment to an independent judiciary.
The territorial claim by the Republic of the Marshall Islands on Wake Atoll leaves a certain amount of ambiguity regarding the actual or hypothetical role of the US military, responsible under agreement for the defence of Marshallese territory, in the event of any strategic crisis or hostilities involving Wake. The Atoll was formally annexed by the US in the 19th century and is still administered by the US Department of the Interior.