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  • Marshall Islands
  • David W. Kupferman (bio)

The period under review for the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) saw a change in government, controversy over the largest-to-date proposed construction project in the country, and rising tensions with the United States over unresolved issues related to the nation's nuclear history and the Compact of Free Association. At the end of the period, however, it may be fair to ask what, if anything, changed other than the names of those in positions of power, as the new government continued to struggle to meet the basic needs of the people living in the Marshalls and seemed unable to assist those who had migrated to the United States.

The most significant political event of the period was the national election held on 21 November 2011. In the run-up to the balloting, numerous members of then-President and Iroij Jurelang Zedkaia's administration (including the president) formed a new political party, Kien Eo Am (KEA, Your Government), and, in a break from previous attempts at party politics in the Marshall Islands, the group formalized its existence by selecting a party leader, Arno Senator Gerald Zackios. By the middle of October, KEA announced that it had thirteen members, which, although short of the seventeen-member majority needed to control the Nitijela (Parliament), demonstrated a coordination of political determination rarely seen in the Marshall Islands. This effort apparently was not counterbalanced by the opposition senators, most of whom were affiliated with the traditional ruling class from Kwajalein Atoll (MIJ, 14 Oct 2011).

Compared to the previous election in 2007, which by all accounts was the worst run in the country's history (Kupferman 2011), the 2011 election went off largely without a hitch. The only last-minute change to the ballot involved the senate candidates from Kwajalein. Ataji Balos, a former senator and longtime member of the opposition to Amata Kabua and the Kwajalein landowners, had been removed from the ballot in September by the chief electoral officer for failing to submit candidacy papers on time. However, on 11 November, the acting attorney general reinstated Balos on the ballot, thereby delaying the arrival [End Page 135] of accurate postal ballots for Kwajalein by two and a half weeks (MIJ, 18 Nov 2011). The inclusion of Balos on the ballot ensured a contested election for Kwajalein, as he became the fourth candidate for three seats in the Nitijela.

On the day of the election, voter turnout in the early morning hours was high, and poll watchers expected record numbers. After the morning rush, however, the crowds disappeared, and by the time ballots were counted on Wednesday, it was apparent that voter turnout was at a near-record low. The Marshall Islands Journal estimated that on Majuro Atoll, the capital and the first district to have its ballots counted, approximately 2,500 votes were cast, representing a mere 30 percent of all registered voters. Election officials guessed that one of the reasons for the low turnout was the large amount of out-migration of Marshallese to the United States, and they expected an increase in the number of absentee postal ballots from overseas (MIJ, 25 Nov 2011). By 5 December, the deadline for the arrival of postal ballots in Majuro, however, only 2,500 overseas ballots had been received, 350 of which were invalidated for numerous irregularities (MIJ, 9 Dec 2011).

By 28 December, the final senate seat was decided. After two recounts, and barely avoiding a tiebreaker (known in Marshallese as kubwe in kijirik—literally "mouse shit," a reference to the unpleasantness of breaking a tie), Caios Lucky defeated incumbent Frederick Muller for the seat for Ujae Atoll by two votes (MIJ, 30 Dec 2011). Lucky, who had lost his reelection bid to Muller in 2007, was one of a number of former senators who were returning to the Nitijela. Others included Jiba Kabua (who had lost his seat for Namdrik Atoll in 1999), defeating Gerald Zackios for the seat for Arno Atoll; Hiroshi Yama mura, who won his seat back from Utrik Senator and Minister of Health Amenta Matthew after losing to her in 2007; and Phillip Muller, who had lost reelection in...


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pp. 135-142
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