SURPRISE WITHDRAWAL IN KIRIBATI RACE

TARAWA, Kiribati (Radio Australia, Jan., 8) - In Kiribati, this week’s sitting of parliament had two very important items on the agenda.

It is the election of the speaker and the presidential nominees.

Leading into these elections, local commentators predicted the race for President would be between President Teburoro Tito and Dr Harry Tong, a member of the country's opposition.

But Dr Tong was a surprise omission from the list of presidential candidates.

Radio Australia says the complexities of the electoral process in Kiribati have produced many twists and turns throughout the long drawn out campaign, which began with the general election on November 29.

Dr Harry Tong a member of the opposition easily won his seat and the right to nominate for the presidential race.

But surprisingly, President Tito failed to attain the simple majority required under the constitution and was forced into a run-off election which he eventually won.

Brian Orme, Tong's advisor says he thinks Tong's own party in an 11th hour late night meeting told him not to nominate as a presidential candidate.

"One has to speculate here Geraldine. We knew this last night at midnight. All of a sudden last night at midnight Dr Harry Tong's party had a meeting and they decided not to run him."

What the party decided to do was to run one serious candidate against Teburoro.

They knew the President had the numbers to secure the nomination, and by knowing that they said well, okay, we'll run one serious candidate.

Because once a candidate accepts nomination, he can't withdraw.

Orme says he didn't want to run the risk of vote splitting.

Chief Electoral Officer Betiota Tooki says the election of the speaker was deferred from December 30th to last Friday due to the death of the sitting candidate in the seat of Banaba.

"One of the candidates, the former MP for Banaba died on the night prior to election day. And according to the constitution the entire election should be annulled. The whole election process should be annulled with fresh elections made after that," said Tooki.

"Yes, he was duly elected on Friday the 3rd, and yes we've got the new member for Banaba now. He is Timeon Anere, a new candidate."

January 8, 2003

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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