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  • Republic of Palau
  • Donald R. Shuster (bio)

The major issues and events for the period under review were the campaign and election 2008; the peaceful transfer of power to a new president and his work; the efforts of the Palau National Congress (Olbiil Era Kelulau, or OEK); events in Koror; allegations of corruption; an update on the Pacific Savings Bank (PSB) failure; and Palau's relations with Taiwan, the United States, and Japan.

With President Tommy E Remengesau Jr ending his second term in office in January 2009, the presidential field was wide open, and four candidate teams emerged, as indicated in last year's review (Shuster 2009). The primary election of 23 September 2008 witnessed a 66 percent voter turnout (9,295 voters). The team of Vice President Elias Chin and Senator Alan Seid finished strongly, taking first with 3,027 votes, ahead of attorney [End Page 152] Johnson Toribiong and Delegate Kerai Mariur with 2,526 votes. Senate president and businessman Surangel Whipps and Billy Kuartei, chief of staff (on leave) for President Remengesau, finished third with 2,248 votes, which was a tremendous effort. What apparently hurt this team was the decision to join in the big debates and forums instead of remaining in their area of strength-small group sessions-where the two displayed an element of magnetism and charisma. Finishing last in the primary field with 1,387 votes were Senator Joshua Koshiba and Peleliu Governor Jackson Ngiraingas. A constitutional initiative passed in the 2004 election required, for the first time, that candidates run as a team rather than as separate individuals, as had been the practice in all seven previous national elections. However, voters in 2008 reversed the 2004 initiative, reestablishing separate tickets for election of the executive in 2012.

As expected, the general race on 4 November 2008 for the presidency and vice presidency was very tight. Here, Toribiong / Mariur emerged first with 5,040 votes to Chin / Seid's 4,828, a difference of just 212 votes. Interestingly, some 504 voters left their ballots blank-perhaps uncertain about what team to vote for, but still showing respect for both teams by not voting. Of Palau's 14,289 registered voters, 10,469 or 73 percent turned out to vote. The candidates realized the race would be very close and were campaigning in Honolulu, Saipan, and Guam, right up to voting day (2 November on these off-island locations). An incident on Guam generated considerable discussion: the pasting over of Billy Kuartei's image on a large campaign billboard with a small Toribiong-Mariur poster. The issue got sorted out after some time. A few irregularities regarding ballots also took place on Guam, but these were honest mistakes by the Palau Election Commission and were resolved.

The Senate race provided a huge surprise and was the talk of Palau. Surangel Whipps Jr, who had chosen not to run for the Senate but to assist his father in his presidential bid, came first among the forty-three candidates at the primary level with an astounding 6,709 votes as a write-in candidate. After the primary, he had a brief six weeks to campaign but did so wisely, taking the advice of his father. Of course, Whipps Jr benefited from the good name of Whipps Sr, who ran first in the 2000 and 2004 Senate races. One might call it some special magic, but it worked. The other twelve winners in the Senate included, in order, Raynold Oilouch, a well-known attorney (6,392 votes); Mlib Tmetuchl, a popular incumbent (5,646 votes); Joel Toribiong, an incumbent from the House (5,403 votes); Kathy Kesolei, a well-known personality (5,240 votes); Mark Rudimch, from a high-ranking Koror family (5,106 votes); Hokkons Baules, an incumbent (4,634 votes); Adalbert Eledui, a well-known Koror person (4,128 votes); Regina Mesebeluu, a retired teacher (3,938 votes); Alfonso Diaz, radio and television personality (3,809 votes); Tommy Remengesau Jr, the sitting president who would be out of office on 15 January 2009 (3,772 votes); Regis Akitaya (3,319 votes); and Paul Ueki (3,211 votes). Of the senators, two are female, and...