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HE René Reynaldo Harris (November 11, 1947 – July 5, 2008) was President of the Republic of Nauru four times between 1999 and 2004. He was a Member of Parliamentmarker from 1977 to 2008.

Background and early career

He was educated at Geelong Collegemarker in Victoriamarker, Australia. Prior to his election to parliament, Harris worked for the Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC) and was the Manager of the Nauru Pacific Line.

He was first elected as an MP for Aiwo in 1977. His first term was quite short though; after seven days he had to resign on court conviction. His second term started in June 1977 in the following by-election and lasted for 31 years. Harris was elected Deputy Speaker of the Parliament in 1978 and Speaker in 1986. In 1992 he was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of the NPC.

In 1998, Harris was convicted of assault and jail-breaking by forcibly freeing three of his relatives from the Nauru Police lock-up with the help of two accomplices. The Australian Broadcasting Corporationmarker television program "Foreign Correspondent" also claimed that as Chairman of the NPC, Harris spent more than A$231,000 on luxury items, holidays and a property in Melbourne. Harris maintained a luxury penthouse suite on the 51st floor of Nauru House in Melbournemarker.

Presidential terms of office

Harris first became President on 27 April 1999 and remained in that post until 20 April 2000 when he was replaced by Bernard Dowiyogo, who retained that office until Harris resumed the presidency on 29 March 2001 following a vote of no-confidence in Dowiyogo. The situation assumed farcial proportions in January 2003, when both men held the office twice. Dowiyogo eventually retained the presidency, although his death in March 2003 prompted another round of uncertainty. Harris was finally reelected President on August 15, 2003.

Harris was quoted as saying he was re-elected by the nation's parliament because the MPs "didn't see the light" with his predecessor, Ludwig Scotty. Harris successfully broke the Nauruan government's deadlock when he was able to pass legislation through parliament in 2003.

His government was responsible for the housing of Australian asylum seekers on the island and also Nauru's admission to the United Nations and full membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. Mr. Harris was criticized by the Nauruan opposition party (Naoero Amo) and the international community for corruption and violations of human rights.

Harris received monthly kidney dialysis treatment for his diabetes in Melbournemarker. His health was a major concern for at least the last 5 years of his life because diabetes ended the life of one of his political opponents, Bernard Dowiyogo, at the age of 57 in early 2003. In December 2003, Harris collapsed in Nauru's parliament building and was revived by Dr. Kieren Keke.

On June 22, 2004, due to a political defection, he was ousted as President, and Ludwig Scotty succeeded him.

Post-Presidency and controversies

In parliamentary elections later in 2004, Scotty's supporters won a majority of the seats and Harris made no further attempts to be reelected president. In the parliamentary election held on August 25, 2007, Harris was the only opposition member of parliament to be re-elected; Scotty's supporters won an even larger victory and it was believed that Harris might have no political supporters in Parliament.

After Nauru's main police station was burned on March 7, 2008 by protesters in Harris' Aiwo constituency who were upset by phosphate dust, the government accused Harris of instigating the protesters.

Harris's periods as President of Nauru were sometimes owing to his alliance with the influential Kinza Clodumar, himself a former President, but also exercising considerable negotiating weight in the Parliament of Naurumarker.

April 2008 election and loss of parliamentary seat

In the parliamentary election held on April 26, 2008, Harris stood again but lost his seat; supporters of President Marcus Stephen won a majority. After 31 years in Parliament, this was the first time he lost his seat.

Death

Harris had a heart attack on July 4, 2008 and died as a result on the morning of July 5. A state funeral was held for him later on the same day. He was aged 59 at the time of his death, and although relatively young, his political generation had been to some extent been superseded by a government ministerial team about 20 years younger than he.

References

  1. "Former Nauru president Rene Harris dead at 61", AFP (ABC News Australia), July 6, 2008.
  2. Sean Dorney, "Scotty Govt wins landslide Nauru election", abc.net.au, August 26, 2007.
  3. "Nauru Government says that former President behind unrest", Radio New Zealand International, March 10, 2008.
  4. "Provisional results in Nauru indicate government returned with increased majority", Radio New Zealand International, April 28, 2008


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