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By Giff Johnson

Special to the Pacific Islands Report

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (November 18, 1999 – Marshall Islands Journal)---In a stunning setback for the Marshalls ruling majority party, powerful Cabinet Ministers Tony deBrum and Phillip Muller were defeated in the preliminary and still unofficial election returns from Monday's national election.

Despite mounting a high-profile campaign as part of a three-way team with Iroij and Vice Speaker Jurelang Zedkaia, 16-year Nitijela veterans Muller and deBrum — previously untouchable office holders — were dropped by voters in favor of United Democratic Party candidates. While Zedkaia, the dominant traditional landowner for Majuro, was comfortably in third place, Muller and deBrum did not share his success.

With all but absentee votes counted for Majuro, Muller and deBrum were in seventh and eighth place, respectively, in the five-seat race.

Although absentee votes still must be counted, they are not expected to change the vote. Muller and deBrum's defeat shifts Majuro from a pre-election three-to-two majority for the ruling government party, to a four-to-one edge for the opposition United Democratic Party which campaigned on a strong anti-corruption platform that targeted Muller and Likiep representative Health Minister Tom Kijiner. Kijiner, though strongly challenged, appears headed to his fifth consecutive term as his two challengers split a majority of the vote.

Foreign Minister Muller and Finance Minister deBrum are the architects of the Marshalls recent Taiwan recognition, and have been the chief strategists for the government party. Muller is the Marshalls chief negotiator in talks with the U.S. on extending long-term economic aid provisions of the Compact of Free Association.

With heavy voter turnout in Majuro, voting didn’t end until close to midnight on Monday although the polls closed at 7 p.m. Many people waited four hours or more in long lines to cast their votes for the 33 senators.

The government’s radio station, which normally switches off at 11:30 p.m., continued throughout the night, broadcasting ward-by-ward election results for Majuro.

Electoral administrator Joseph Jorlang said the hand-count started close to midnight Monday and halted at 5 a.m. due to the exhaustion of the more than 100 tabulators, and was re-started at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning. The tabulation of absentee votes is continuing.

Four years ago, when deBrum was a leader of the opposition, he was the second-leading vote getter in Majuro behind President Amata Kabua. But, after more than a year as President Imata Kabua’s chief spokesman, he has been eliminated in the preliminary count.

Wilfred Kendall, a former ambassador to Washington, was top vote getter in the unofficial results for Majuro, with a total of 2,199 votes.

Witten Philippo, a former chief justice of the high court and first term opposition senator, was second with 2,177 votes. Brenson Wase, a long time senator from Arno Atoll and former cabinet minister who switched to Majuro for this election, was in control of the fourth spot (1,682), while former Jaluit senator Alik J. Alik took the fifth spot with 1,325 votes over sixth place UDP colleague Jack Jorban (1,248) for the final seat for the nation’s capital.

Muller received 1,034, deBrum 819, Marie Maddison 642 and John M. Milne 586.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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