- Marshall Islands
The past twelve months in the Republic of the Marshall Islands have been dominated by responses to a variety of crises concerning the national election, continued recognition of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the status of Kwajalein Atoll, the looming energy shortage, and the recently declared state of national economic emergency.
The dominant political event was the national election held on 19 November 2007. For all intents and purposes, however, the election came nine days earlier, when then-Speaker of the Nitijela (Parliament) Litokwa Tomeing left the United Democratic Party (UDP) and announced his support for, among other initiatives, the Aelon Kein Ad (AKA) party platform to recognize the People's Republic of China. Tomeing, who became Speaker and was prominent in the UDP leadership when it came to power in 2000, was quoted as saying, "Our government needs to change. Our current leaders have lost their steam and they shouldn't be allowed to continue" (MIJ, 2007c).
There was little smooth sailing for the Note administration in the run-up to the election. At the end of July 2007, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerald Zackios resigned his cabinet position shortly after testifying at a US House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on the Compact of Free Association, although he retained his Senate seat from Arno Atoll. While rumors and speculation abounded as to the reasons behind the resignation, the president's office added to the confusion by letting more than a week pass between acknowledging receipt of the resignation and finally accepting it. In addition, the Note government was perceived as having a "hands-off" approach to problems with the fleet at Air Marshall Islands, the government owned airline and lifeline for many outer-island residents; rolling blackouts in Ebeye; and an unflattering economic report from the US Department of Interior released in late 2007 (Office of Insular Affairs 2007). Speaker Tomeing's analysis that the Note administration was "a dismal failure" seemed to herald the end of UDP rule (Yokwe Online 2007a). [End Page 124]
No one could have predicted the debacle that began on Election Day, 19 November 2007, and did not officially end until 4 January 2008, three days before the new Nitijela was scheduled to convene and choose the next presidential administration. The election itself was fraught with missteps and, in Majuro Atoll (the capital and population center), a bout of bad weather. While election law mandates that polling stations are to be open from 7 AM to 7 PM, only one of the thirty polling places in Majuro was operational by 8 AM. There were a number of reports of polling stations opening up no earlier than noon, and one polling station on Majuro had to be moved at 3 PM to the hospital because the landowner of the original polling place had shut it down, saying he had not been asked permission. At 4 PM, the attorney general ordered twenty-one of the thirty polling stations to remain open for voting until 1:30 AM the next day, although the last reported closing came at 5 am. During late voting, a number of polling stations had to cease operations temporarily to wait for lights to be installed (Johnson and Chutaro 2007).
Chief Electoral Officer Carl Alik initially blamed the late start in Majuro on the morning rain and the reluctance of the Stevedore Company to set up tents early for fear they would be stolen, although a recent change in the voter registration law was the more likely culprit. For the first time, voters from any island could vote at any polling station; in the past, voters from particular islands were assigned to specific polling places. Election workers at a variety of stations, few of whom had previous election experience, were also cited for inconsistent application of rules and procedures. In at least two instances, election workers required that voters write their names on envelopes with their ballots stuffed inside, in violation of voters' anonymity rights. Alik ended the envelope labeling in the late afternoon when he became aware of what was happening (Johnson 2007a).
Voting in the outer islands had its share of problems as well. Prior...