FIRST POLITICAL DEBATES BRING KOSRAE INTO MEDIA AGE

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Incumbents and hopefuls talk issues during Consumer Week

By Olivier Wortel

KOSRAE, Federated States of Micronesia (Oct. 15, 2002 – Kosrae Korrespondent)---Politics in Kosrae will never be the same.

In an effort to improve and develop the political landscape and to inform and engage the public in electoral politics, Kosrae recently held its first Political Debates as part of the week-long Consumer Week (CW).

Significantly, the debates have been aired live by both by Kosrae Radio and Cable Channel 6, as well as being covered by the FSM newspaper, the Kaselehlie Press.

This is a big change from the traditional method of door to door canvassing and buying voters food on Election Day.

"Know to Protect Consumer Rights and Freedom – Our Responsibility for Public Education and Awareness" was the slogan for this years CW, and it is the right to know and the freedom to a full range of information and issues that the Division of Consumer Services sought to attain.

On October 7, two candidates for Lt. Governor met at the Kosrae State gymnasium in Tofol. With a good number of people in attendance, Incumbent Gerson A. Jackson – looking strong after his recent court victory to be allowed a third consecutive term - and his counterpart, William Orlando Tosie squared off in a competent and respectful presentation of economic, political, and social platforms. The third candidate, Wilton J. Mackwelung did not join.

October 8 was to be a platform for the Governor, but was canceled because of off-island business. Governor Rensley A. Sigrah, finishing a solid first term, will go into his second term as Governor of Kosrae unopposed.

October 9 saw the first real fire works. Although the Tafunsak elections are dominated by current Legislators, it was the two newcomers, Akiyusi L. Palsis and Nena Miosi Tolenoa, who played the spoiler roles, pummeling incumbent Lyndon H. Jackson with incendiary platforms and direct personal rebuttals.

Incumbents Carson K. Sigrah, James R. Palsis, and Josaiah S. Saimon did not participate.

On the 10 in Utwe, Incumbent John Martin Andrew and Rinson H. Edmond went toe to toe in a lively but professional debate. Mr. Martin started with a senatorial laissez-faire, speaking in a calm and low tone about the difficulties the legislature faces with small budgets.

Mr. Edmond stepped up to the podium with big, forceful talk and an air of urgency of the need for economic development and big business. The two men then spent the majority of the time on this economic track, debating the issue of bringing an airline like Palau Air to Kosrae, not only to break up the Continental Monopoly and help the Kosraean consumer, but also to develop the fledgling tourism sector.

Incumbent Patterson B. Benjamin was off island.

Singkitchy George, Director of Commerce and Industry, and the principal organizer of the debates, said that the political debates were designed to give the people the opportunity to learn about the political process and make an informed decision based on speeches and real platforms.

"It’s new and lots of people worry about it." He said. "But it brings political candidates together. It avoids door to door campaigning and saying something different depending on what audience they are listening to."

He talked about the changing political landscape in Kosrae. "In the past people made their decision based largely on family ties, village ties. But I think what we are doing now is the right thing, to give the people their right to make an informed decision."

As this story goes to press, both the Malem and Lelu municipalities are scheduled to hold their debates next week.

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