Islanders Prepare to Elect Palau’s Third President
KOROR, Palau (AP) _ Seven men, acutely aware that the post they seek has been haunted by death, seek the presidency of this politically and economically troubled Pacific island state in national elections Wednesday.
Each of the candidates for the four-year term has pledged to bring unity, peace and reconciliation to the nearly 15,000 people who live on eight of Palau’s 200 islands.
The world’s last trusteeship, establised by the United Nations in 1947, Palau has been crippled by mounting debts, a U.S. congressional investigation of alleged corruption and fiscal mismanagement and deep divisions over a proposed compact with the United States that would give Palau self-rule.
Palau’s only two elected presidents since constitutional government began eight years ago died from assassination and suicide.
The candidates include Thomas O. Remengesau, who became president in August when Lazarus Salii died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A longtime national government cabinet officer, Remengesau was vice president and is serving the remainder of Salii’s term, which ends this year.
All of the candidates support a new political status with the United States, although they don’t agree on the terms. The United State has been administering Palau affairs under the trusteeship. The candidates also advocate a stronger government role for the island chain’s 16 traditional chiefs.
Three candidates, businessman Roman Tmetuchl, high chief Yutaka M. Gibbons and John O. Ngiraked, minister of state in Salii’s cabinet, have sought the presidendy in previous elections.
The other candidates are Santos Olikong, speaker of the national House of Delegates; Moses Y. Uludong, a former national senator; and Ngiratkel Etpison, a businessman.
Etpison, Gibbons and Uludong are governors of their states, of which Palau has 16.
Because of the crowded field, it is unlikely that the winner will receive a majority. There is no runoff under Palau’s constitution.
Final results may not be known for several days.
The estimated 10,000 registered voters, including about 1,800 who live outside Palau, also will elect 14 senators and 16 House members to the national congress.
″Since the death of President Salii, everything is wide open,″ said one government official who asked to remain anonymous. ″There is a new mood. Palau is at a juncture where the old ways are making room for new approaches.″
The official said most of the campaigning has been centered around local issues such as road construction and service to the villages.
The proposed compact of free association would bring Palau self-rule and hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. economic aid once the trusteeship is terminated. Financial aid is now administered by the Department of the Interior on a piecemeal basis. Under free association, money would go to the Palau government to spend as they see fit.
A compact was approved by the U.S. Congress and President Reagan in 1986 that would provide $460 million in aid over 15 years, but Congress failed to act on a bill this month that would have provided an extra $40 million as an incentive to get Palau to approve the pact.
Palauans have held six plebiscites since 1982, but each has fallen short of approving the free association arrangement that is similar to ones the United States has with two other former trust territories, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Palau has a constitutional prohibition against nuclear weapons on its territory. Each plebiscite won a majority but came up short of the 75 percent support needed to overrule the no-nukes provision.
Palau, west of the international dateline, is about 600 miles east of the Philippines, 800 miles southwest of Guam and 4,500 miles southwest of Honolulu.
It is of strategic interest to the United States, which would retain defense and mutual security responsibilities for the islands under the proposed compact.