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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (January 12, 2001 – Marshall Islands Journal)---President Kessai Note is facing a vote of no confidence, the first of his year-old administration, and only the second in the 22-year history of constitutional government in the RMI.

Former President Imata Kabua and six other opposition senators on Monday filed with Nitijela Speaker Litokwa Tomeing a notice of their intention to call a vote of no confidence.

At Tuesday’s Nitijela session, after an unusually long series of reports from Cabinet ministers, Ujae Senator Justin deBrum brought the vote of no confidence motion official to the chamber. But he was preempted from reading a statement explaining the reason behind the no confidence motion when Justice Minister Witten Philippo interjected with a point of order, saying that the motion needed to be put properly to the floor, seconded by three individuals (a Constitutional requirement), and then statements could follow.

Philippo’s procedural objection caused an eruption of further objections, comments and general confusion as Speaker Tomeing called for a brief recess that took the session off the air. But the arguments continued, with opposition and government party members offering their opposing interpretations in a spirited, though often humorous debate.

Senator Imata Kabua was particularly animated, calling for points of order, interrupting arguing, and laughing as the debate wore on.

Legislative counsel Alex Osei-Guay was called into the chamber to give an opinion on the procedural dispute. Nitijela Clerk Joe Riklon briefed him at the clerk’s table while bedlam was breaking loose around them. After about 30 minutes more debate, the members agreed that Philippo’s proposed procedure would be followed, so the Nitijela attorney was allowed to leave without having to wade into the battle.

The Nitijela went back on the air, and deBrum put his motion, which the Speaker said had to be addressed first before he could read his statement in support.

As soon as deBrum offered the motion, and it was seconded, Philippo interjected a point of order to make his own motion that the vote of no confidence be held by roll-call vote. This led to more argument over procedure, with opposition party senators questioning why the vote couldn’t be held by secret ballot, while government ministers said that the Constitution requires a secret ballot only for election of the President and Speaker.

Kabua noted, with heavy sarcasm, that when the vote of no confidence was put against him 18 months ago the senators who are now the government fought to use a secret ballot.

The moves and counter moves, like a chess game, led to a voice vote, which passed Philippo’s roll call motion. Outside of the Nitijela session members of both sides acknowledged that a secret ballot vote would give the opposition the best chance to unseat the government.

Following the roll call motion vote, Tomeing quickly recessed the session Tuesday.

The letter announcing the motion of no confidence was signed by Senators Imata Kabua, Kaiboke Kaua, Kunio Lemari, Rellong Lemari, Ishmael John, Justin deBrum and Alden Bejang.

The Constitution requires that the vote be held between five and ten days after the motion is put.

The first vote of no confidence, in 1998, failed by one vote.

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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