Judge Allows Palau’s Government To Hold Constitutional Referendum
KOROR, Palau (AP) _ Palau’s government received court approval today to hold a national vote Tuesday on whether to eliminate anti-nuclear language from its constitution.
The decision by Palau Supreme Court Chief Justice Mamoru Nakamura was received with elation and relief by President Lazarus Salii and hundreds of unemployed government workers.
Removal of the anti-nuclear language would help clear the way for approval of a proposed compact with the United States that would in turn bring Palau badly needed economic aid.
The compact would allow the United States to operate nuclear-capable and nuclear-propelled ships and aircraft in Palau’s territory without having to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear devices. That provision conflicts with Palau’s constitution.
The compact would open the door to nearly $1 billion in U.S economic aid over a 50-year period. Once it is implemented, Palau would receive $141 million in the first year.
Palau, an island chain of nearly 14,000 residents, was the first country in the world to adopt a nuclear-free constitution.
The constitutional amendment referendum needs a simple majority from the voters and 12 of Palau’s 16 states. The results of the referendum probably will not be known until Friday.
Nakamua rejected a request to halt the vote from three Palau men who had contended that legislation calling for the referendum was unconstitution al and violated procedures for amending the 7-year-old constitution.
Attorneys for the men could not immediately be reached for comment.
Palau Attorney General Russell Weller said there will be another hearing on constitutional questions raised in the suit. It was not immediately known when that would be held.
The hearing could affect whether Palau will hold an Aug. 21 vote on the compact.
In a June 30 referendum, nearly 68 percent of Palauans voted for the compact. Thirteen states also approved it. However, the compact needed 75 percent voter approval to override the anti-nuclear provision.
Shortly after Nakamura’s decision was made public, the government went on national radio to announce the decision. At the national Congress building, where several out-of-work government employees had been camped for more than three weeks, copies of the decision were distributed.
″This will be the last chance the Republic of Palau will have to find a permanent solution for our financial crisis,″ Fred Skebong, chairman of a committee of out-of-work government employees, told about 100 applauding people.
The 37-year-old father of five children was one of 900 of the national government’s 1,330 workers who were furloughed in early July because the government had run out of money for salaries.
If the constitutional amendment and compact are approved, Salii has said, workers’ salaries will be paid within 30 days of the compact’s certification.
Under the compact, the United States agreed not to test, store, use or dispose of nuclear, toxic chemical, gas or biological weapons intended for warfare in Palau.