PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
CLOSE MARSHALLS ELECTIONS RIDE ON ABSENTEE VOTES
By Giff Johnson
MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Nov. 28) — The wildcard in the national election of the Marshall Islands is the large vote from Marshall Islanders living in the United States — votes that by law cannot begin being counted until Monday night, making the domestic vote tally a less-than-final result.
With many parliament races being decided by fewer than 100 votes, the more than 2,300 off-shore postal ballots could easily change the result in at least 20 percent of the races.
But while the country waits for the deadline for off-shore ballots to expire on Monday so they can be counted, the tally of domestic votes shows that voters have given a vote of confidence to the ruling United Democratic Party led by President Kessai Note.
While the results could change with the off-shore votes, UDP candidates are currently headed for major upsets in three islands, which would increase their control in parliament from 19 seats to 22 in the 33-member chamber.
Candidate and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Donald Capelle is on his way to beating six-term incumbent Tom Kijiner at Likiep, 295-243 votes.
Four term incumbent and traditional high chief Christopher Loeak is facing possible elimination at Ailinglaplap by UDP candidate Katzuo Katjang, who has run in previous elections and never come near winning.
Although the result of the Ailinglaplap domestic vote — Loeak was 11 votes behind Katjang — was much too close to call with the postal absentee ballots still to be counted, the rejection by domestic Ailinglaplap voters of a high chief is the talk of the 2003 national election.
In another hotly contested race, newcomer and UDP candidate Mattlan Zackhras has outpolled veteran politician Tony deBrum in Namdrik.
A long-time senator and cabinet minister in previous governments, deBrum lost his bid for reelection from Majuro in the 1999 election and was attempting a comeback from Namdrik this year.
He’s been a leading strategist and spokesman for the opposition Ailin Kein Ad party, which has strongly opposed the newly approved Compact of Free Association between the Marshall Islands and the U.S. But Zackhras has outpolled deBrum in the domestic vote, 261-176.
Many other races remain perilously close and candidates must wait nervously until the off-shore votes begin being tabulated on Monday night in Majuro.
UDP incumbent Helkena Anni is just 36 votes ahead of challenger Dennis Momotaro, a local businessman.
Ailin Kein Ad incumbent Hiroshi Yamamura had just a 27 vote lead over UDP challenger Amenta Matthew, one of only four women nationwide who contested parliament seats.
November 28, 2003
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