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FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (March 25, 1998 - PACNEWS/Radio Australia)---On nine different Tuvalu atolls, over 4,000 eligible voters are expected to go to the polls Thursday to elect 12 members to the Polynesian nation's Fifth House of Parliament.

Registration of voters this year was 11 percent below that of November 1993, Radio Tuvalu reports, but there is a 30 percent increase in the number of candidates.

Of the 36 all-male candidates running, current Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu is being challenged in his Nukulaelae constituency of 212 registered voters by long-time retired senior civil servant Tulaga Telupe.

All other members of Paeniu's government caucus also seek reelection.

Every private Member of Parliament during the past 15 months --the unofficial opposition-- also is in the running, with the exception of the MP for Nanumea and, so far, the only woman ever to have been elected to Tuvalu's Parliament, Naama Maheu Laatasi.

Mrs. Laatasi was Minister of Health and Human Resources Development during the first Paeniu administration, 1989-1993, and a private member during the last Parliament.

The election campaign has been dominated by allegations of corruption and sexual misconduct, Radio Australia reports.

Prime Minister Paeniu says if he is re-elected, he will appoint an Ombudsman and introduce a code of conduct for Members of Parliament, to ensure good, open governance.

Tuvalu, with a total population of approximately 10,000, is located in the central Pacific Ocean, north of Fiji and south of Kiribati.

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