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    Wednesday, October 23, 2019-2:28:36A.M.






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Regional News

Marshall Islands voters send ‘change’ message to leaders

MAJURO — Marshall Islands voters delivered an unmistakable message through Monday’s national election: they want change.

Five opposition-aligned candidates dominated the vote for the five-seat parliament race for Majuro, the nation’s capital, while numerous incumbent cabinet ministers were under threat of losing their re-election bids as unofficial, preliminary results were reported from multiple islands.

Five cabinet ministers and other government-affiliated parliament incumbents were struggling to retain their seats for another term in the early counting with about half of the domestic vote tabulated. In a stunning upset in progress, challenger Ladie Jack was on track to unseat powerful Majuro Mayor Mudge Samuel, holding a more than 230-vote lead after several thousand Majuro votes were counted. But no election can be declared final until after thousands of postal ballots are counted in early December.

The big story of election 2015 so far is the “youth vote” for newcomers Sherwood Tibon in Majuro and David Paul in Kwajalein, who have elbowed their way into historically difficult electorates for first-time candidates to gain a foothold. Massive voter endorsement propelled Tibon to first place in Majuro Nitijela voting — a rarified position held in past elections by such heavyweights as late President Jurelang Zedkaia.

With about 60 percent of the Kwajalein regular vote counted by Wednesday, Paul was maintaining the number two position in the three-seat race, a position bolstered by Paul’s strong performance in the absentee voting by Kwajalein voters resident in Majuro. Paul’s strong showing coupled with solid voting for Alvin Jacklick is challenging the re-election of incumbents Marshall Islands international climate spokesman Foreign Minister Tony deBrum and Jeban Riklon at Kwajalein.

Voters lined up Monday in Majuro to cast votes in the national election.  Photo by Giff JohnsonVoters lined up Monday in Majuro to cast votes in the national election. Photo by Giff Johnson

All three Majuro incumbent opposition senators — Tony Muller, David Kramer and Brenson Wase — are clearly on their way to reelection, while recently retired U.S. Army veteran Kalani Kaneko looks to round out the Majuro delegation depending on results of postal absentee votes.

Two women candidates were ahead in early balloting, presenting the possibility that Marshall Islands voters might send more than one woman to the 33-seat parliament for the first time since constitutional government was established in 1979.

All results at this stage remain unofficial and represent only part of the total number of votes to be tabulated.

The big questionmark that looms large over the election: what impact will Marshall Islanders living in the United States have on the election’s outcome? It is estimated that more than 30,000 Marshall Islanders live in the U.S.

Chief Election Officer Robson Almen Wednesday said his office mailed 4,671 ballots to Marshallese voters living overseas. By law, postal absentee ballots cannot be counted until after Nov. 30. In the 2011 nation election, postal ballots changed domestic votes in two parliament races and one mayor race.

No matter what happens with the postal vote, one thing is clear: Voters living in the Marshall Islands are letting their votes deliver a message for change.