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Marshalls candidates gear for Con-Con election

MAJURO — Registration of candidates for the upcoming constitutional convention in the Marshall Islands closed this week, with 143 people running for the 45 seats.

When the Con-Con is held following the February 21 election, it will mark the first time a constitutional review has been held in over 20 years.

Marshall Islanders will go to the polls on Feb. 21, 2017 to elect 45 candidates for a constitutional convention that will be convened soon after the vote. Photo shows voters lining up to get their ballots during the Marshall Islands’ national election in Nov. 2015 in Majuro.  Photo by Giff JohnsonMarshall Islanders will go to the polls on Feb. 21, 2017 to elect 45 candidates for a constitutional convention that will be convened soon after the vote. Photo shows voters lining up to get their ballots during the Marshall Islands’ national election in Nov. 2015 in Majuro. Photo by Giff Johnson

Only seven of the 33 members of parliament are not running for seats in the Con-Con. The rules for the convention require that all proposed amendments to the constitution must first be endorsed by the parliament, which has already approved a list of proposed amendments. The highest profile amendment is to change the Marshall Islands parliamentary style of government to a presidential system with direct election of a president and vice president by voters to replace the existing system of the parliament choosing the president.

Any measures adopted by the Con-Con must be approved by popular vote to come into effect. Two previous constitutional conventions passed numerous proposed changes to the constitution, but voters turned down all substantive changes.

Twelve of the 45 seats for the 2017 Con-Con are reserved for traditional chiefs. Twenty-four chiefs, including three women, are contesting these 12 seats. For the 33 regular seats representing different islands in the country, 13 women and 106 men are in the running.

A first for the Con-Con election is that Chief Electoral Officer Robson Almen is running for election from Ebon Atoll. This is the first time in Marshall Islands history that a Chief electoral officer is involved in an election as a candidate.