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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 7) — Marshall Islands President Kessai Note was easily reelected Monday during the opening of the first parliamentary session since the Nov. 17 national election.

With his United Democratic Party solidly in control of the Nitijela, the local parliament, there was little drama in the vote and no change in the leadership lineup, with Note winning 20 votes to nine over opposition candidate and former Minister of Education Justin deBrum.

Speaker Litokwa Tomeing and Vice Speaker Ruben Zackhras were also backed for second terms by 19-10 margins.

In fact, with 19 UDP senators and 10 opposition Ailin Kein Ad (Our Islands) party members in attendance at the opening session, the only question was which member of the opposition party defected to vote for Note in the secret ballot election.

One seat in the 33-member chamber remains undecided as the recount for the second Ailinglaplap Atoll parliament seat was ongoing Sunday and Monday, so no winner had been identified in the vote that was tied from the Nov. 17 election.

It is the first time in seven national elections that a parliament race has resulted in a deadlock.

If the race remains tied, incumbent and traditional chief Christopher Loeak and challenger Katzuo Katjang will pull straws to decide who gets the seat.

Loeak’s brother, Council of Iroij (chiefs) chairman Kotak Loeak — who traditionally delivers a speech at each opening — took the opportunity of the nationally broadcast event to lash out over concern about what he described as emerging trends toward disrespect for traditional leaders and customs in general.

He criticized actions of some unnamed candidates who he said during the election campaign issued disrespectful statements about traditional chiefs that were shocking and upsetting.

Note indirectly responded to the criticism by hailing the conduct of the Nov. 17 national vote as a demonstration of an open and honest election that showed the commitment of the Marshall Islands to democratic rule.

Islanders were able to cast their votes freely for the candidates of their choice, he said, adding that this was a "fine example of democracy in action."

The president’s inauguration is scheduled on Monday.

January 7, 2004

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