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  • Republic of Palau
  • Donald R Shuster (bio)

Palau experienced an especially busy year from July 2004 through June 2005. Major events included Palau's magnificent performance as host of the Ninth Festival of Pacific Arts; the seventh national elections; a local airline that flew and then collapsed; overseas interest in megaprojects; the beginning of a constitutional convention; and an international sports fest.

Magical, memorable, best ever, fantastic, overwhelming, and unprecedented were some of the adjectives used to describe the Ninth Festival ofPacific Arts, locally known as "Bestibal," which was held 2231 July 2004. Representatives of twenty-seven Pacific Island countries and territories as well as three Asian nations engaged in nonstop feasting, dancing, singing, storytelling, art and literature demonstrations, musical performances, symposia, films, and concerts. It was an amazing cultural exchange that enlivened Palau and made Palauans proud as hosts. As [End Page 114] President Tommy E Remengesau Jr remarked, "The nation has come together. This is the true nature of Palauan culture when it comes to national events and national responsibility."

President Remengesau easily won reelection in November. For second spot in the executive, assertive and ambitious one-term Vice President Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi was defeated by retired US Army officer Camsek Elias Chin. Both winners campaigned hard. During the race, it was rumored that money from both Taiwan and the People's Republic of China was going to the presidential candidates, Remengesau and Polycarp Basilius. Although disavowed by the two candidates, the claims are consistent with reports about Taiwanese money going to presidential candidates in the Marshall Islands and Kiribati (Norris 2004, 20). On the vice-presidential front, Chin did not hold any fundraisers but relied on his personal finances and some donations, as did Pierantozzi.

The presidential race involved a wealthy, experienced politician coming out of retirement to challenge a youthful incumbent. Basilius used theInternet, media, and money, but began his campaign late, whereas Remengesau had superb grassroots organizing, a clear message, and raw energy. Remengesau won by a sizable margin, taking 66 percent of the vote (6,494 votes) to Basilius's 34 percent (3,268 votes). Pierantozzi, despite the advantage of being the incumbent, allowed uncertainty, tardiness, and overconfidence to weaken her chances of regaining office. She was soundly defeated by the very energetic, serious, down-to-earth Chin, who took 71 percent of the vote (6,919 votes) toher 29 percent (2,812 votes). Chin began his campaign early, about two years before the election, while Pierantozzi was questioning whether she should challenge Remengesau or concentrate on reelection to the vice presidency. The 2004 race was the third time in seven national elections that the winning vice-presidential candidate gained a greater number of votes than the victorious presidential candidate. It was the first time that anincumbent vice president failed to regain office.

In the race for the 25 National Congress seats, Palauan voters refused to put women in either the Senate (9 seats) or the House of Delegates (16 seats). The niece of former President Kuniwo Nakamura, Imelda Nakamura-Franz, was the top woman finisher with 3,102 votes in the Senate race, but that was more than 1,100 votes behind the ninth-place man. However, at thirty-five years of age, Nakamura-Franz should be a viable future contender. Surprisingly, four incumbent senators were replaced by business and social leaders: Alan Seid, Alfonso Diaz, Santy Asanuma, and medical doctor Caleb Otto. The members of the House of Delegates represent rather small constituencies —oddly called "states"—that range from 349 to 4,583 registered voters. Generally, competition for office in the states is a matter of who has the larger number of relatives. This means there is little turnover in House membership from election to election. In 2004, just one incumbent lost, another won by just one vote, a third by just eight votes, and a fourth by [End Page 115] nine. In three states, the incumbent ran unopposed, reflecting the villages' desire to avoid divisive competition.

As in the past six national elections (the first of which was held in 1980), voter turnout was high, some 76 percent for 2004. Besides choosing candidates, voters had six constitutional issues to tackle...