Under US administration as part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific, the people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence but instead to forge closer links with the US. Negotiations for territorial status began in 1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the US was approved in 1975, and came into force on 24 March 1976. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978.
none (commonwealth in political union with the US); there are no first-order administrative divisions as defined by the US Government, but there are four municipalities at the second order: Northern Islands, Rota, Saipan, Tinian
chief of state: President Barack H. OBAMA (since 20 January 2009); Vice President Joseph R. BIDEN (since 20 January 2009)
head of government:
Governor Benigno R. FITIAL (since 9 January 2006); Lieutenant Governor Eloy S. INOS (since 1 May 2009)
the cabinet consists of the heads of the 10 principal departments under the executive branch who are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate; other members include special assistants to the governor and office heads appointed by and reporting directly to the governor
under the US Constitution, residents of unincorporated territories, such as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, do not vote in elections for US president and vice president; however, they may vote in the Democratic and Republican party presidential primary elections; governor and lieutenant governor elected on the same ticket by popular vote for four-year terms (eligible for a second term); election last held on 7 November 2009 (run-off election was held on 23 November 2009)
percent of vote - Benigno R. FITIAL reelected with 51.4% over Heinz HOFSCHNEIDER (48.6%) in the run-off election held on 23 November 2009
bicameral legislature consists of the Senate (9 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year staggered terms) and the House of Representatives (20 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve two-year terms)
Senate - last held on 3 November 2007 (next to be held in November 2009); House of Representatives - last held on 3 November 2007 (next to be held in November 2009)
Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Covenant Party 3, Republican Party 3, Democratic Party 1, independents 2; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Republican Party 12, Covenant Party 4, Democratic Party 1, independents 3
note:the Northern Mariana Islands elects one nonvoting delegate to the US House of Representatives; election last held on 4 November 2008 (next to be held in November 2010); seats by party - independent 1
blue, with a white, five-pointed star superimposed on a gray latte stone (the traditional foundation stone used in building) in the center, surrounded by a wreath; blue symbolizes the Pacific Ocean, the star represents the Commonwealth; the latte stone and the floral head wreath display elements of the native Chamorro culture
The economy benefits substantially from financial assistance from the US. The rate of funding has declined as locally generated government revenues have grown. The key tourist industry employs about 50% of the work force and accounts for roughly one-fourth of GDP. Japanese tourists predominate. Annual tourist entries have exceeded one-half million in recent years, but financial difficulties in Japan have caused a temporary slowdown. The agricultural sector is made up of cattle ranches and small farms producing coconuts, breadfruit, tomatoes, and melons. Garment production is by far the most important industry with the employment of 17,500 mostly Chinese workers and sizable shipments to the US under duty and quota exemptions.