The name of the National Congress, Olbiil Era Kelulau (“OEK”) or “House of Whispered Decisions or Strategies”, comes from Palauan traditional law and custom. When traditional chiefs gather in a Bai, or meeting house, to decide important issues, no communication can take place louder than a whisper. Rather than communicate through argument or shouting, chiefs deliver messages and conduct negotiations through messengers, maintaining a quiet and calm atmosphere. The use of this name for the Palau National Congress demonstrates a continuation of this tradition of respect and formality.
As part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, administered by the United States after 1947, Palau had a legislative body, called the Palau Congress, a one house legislature with 68 members. All laws passed by the Congress had to be approved by the Trust Territory, the direct predecessor to the modern OEK was created in 1955, a bicameral, or two houses, legislature also called the Olbiil Era Kelulau. Unlike the current OEK, this legislature did not have complete authority to create binding legislation, as Palau was not yet an independent nation.
The Palau Constitution, approved by Palau’s voters on July 9, 1980, made provision for a bicameral legislature, the modern Olbiil Era Kelulau. The First OEK under the new constitution took office on January 1, 1981. After each subsequent general election every four years, a new Olbiil Era Kelulau takes office.
Size and Composition of the OEK
The Constitution establishes a bicameral Congress. The House of Delegates has 16 members, which represent each of Palau’s states. The number of members of the Senate is not explicitly stated in the Constitution. Instead, every eight years a reappointment commission, established by the OEK, recommends a redistricting plan to allocate seats according to the current population. This may result in a change in the number of members of the Senate. Any proposed reappointment can be challenged by any voter before the Palau Supreme Court.
The First Olbiil Era Kelulau had 18 Senators. This number was reduced to 14 in 1984 and to 9 in 2000. Most recently, in 2008, the number of Senators was increased to 13.