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By Cookie B. Micaller

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (April 12, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---In Garapan Central Park, organizers of the Reform Party promise to revive the economy by abolishing rules unfriendly to business, provide more jobs, fill the treasury and prevent a U.S. takeover of immigration and labor.

But only about 50 people came to fill the complex to hear party stalwarts crow about Saipan’s ills and the potions they brew to cure it. Some supporters, obviously reluctant to be identified, hid behind the bushes in the dark.

"We are the alternative. The Democrats are no longer an option. The Republicans just don’t know how to run the government," said party chairman Froilan C. Tenorio, who ruled as governor from 1994 to 1997.

At one point Tenorio tried to boost the morale of participants apparently disappointed over poor attendance at the launching of his Reform Party at the park Friday night.

"The reason why we need to meet tonight is to formalize the articles of incorporation. We felt we have to do it because a lot of people want to run under the Reform Party," he said, drawing applause from the crowd.

Tenorio was beaten by his uncle, incumbent governor Pedro P. Tenorio, in a three-way gubernatorial race in 1997, after he was accused of mismanaging the government.

During the launching of his party, which he plans to use to run anew for the governorship in elections scheduled in 2001, Tenorio pledged to solve some of the problems many accuse him of starting.

As an economic slowdown continues and puts a blight on the population and businesses, once influential political groups and politicians, who fail to provide real solutions, are losing their allure.

The economic crisis is slowly reshaping Saipan’s politics, prompting people, mostly who lost jobs in government following the assumption into office by the new administration, to choose who can deliver real solutions.

The present governor was elected on a platform designed to rescue the local economy and unite the community fractured by political bickerings. He clinched 45.6 percent of the total 11,201 votes against Froilan’s 27.2 percent. During his earlier terms, the charismatic leader ruled when Saipan’s economy was as its peak, and his association with those prosperous times apparently make him popular among people resenting the current economic downturn.

Its political party system young and largely undeveloped, Saipan has few political choices. Since it became a U.S. commonwealth in 1978, the island government has been ruled by only four governors, all belonging to the Camacho, Guerrero and Tenorio clans.

Unlike in the U.S. mainland, the party system in this tiny Pacific island hardly matters, since family ties are stronger than party principles.

But many of the problems confronting the Commonwealth are caused by external factors, such as the Asian financial crisis that is threatening to kill the main tourism industry, and U.S. pressure to take control of labor and immigration that is hurting local businesses.

Local parties are unaccustomed to such hardships and find it difficult to come up with solutions.

The present leadership has designed a wide-ranging austerity program to cope with declining cash resources and is planning to diversify the tourism-based economy to stir the seemingly stagnant island economy.

Many are starting to criticize the present governor, but it is unlikely people would go all out for Froilan, who roars with firebrand rhetoric but has yet to prove anew that he could draw the wide support he once held.

Froilan is hoping to get his support from the business community, which he said has been disillusioned with the way the government is dealing with the economic crisis.

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