RECOUNTS EXPECTED IN MARSHALLS ELECTION DEBACLE

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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Dec. 12) – Neither of the two main political parties in the Marshall Islands has emerged with a clear majority following the release Monday of the final, unofficial results for the national parliament election.

But a week ago, both the government United Democratic Party and the opposition United People’s Party declared they had the 17 Members of Parliament needed to form a government when the parliament meets on the first week of January.

On Monday, the United People’s Party restated its plan to elect Speaker Litokwa Tomeing as president of this western Pacific nation.

"Despite three or four races that are too close to call at this time, the people’s party will prevail," Tomeing said in a statement. "The numbers can’t lie, and we have the numbers to form a new government."

The United People’s Party is a coalition of the leading opposition group Aelon Kein Ad (Our Islands) party, Tomeing and independent candidates.

Based on party affiliations before the election, the ruling United Democratic Party has just 14 — compared to the 20 seat majority it enjoyed the past four years. United People’s Party has 15 and there are four independents. But there are two incumbent senators-elect in both parties — Nidel Lorak and Norman Matthew in the government United Democratic Party and Kaiboke Kabua and Rellong Lemari in the opposition party — who are widely viewed as fence sitters.

Negotiations are in progress with leaders from both parties trying to lure Members of Parliament from the other side — or keep their group intact from raids by the opposing party to put together the 17 needed for a majority.

The final but still unofficial results were issued December 10 – three weeks after the Marshall Islands election—that is being called the worst managed in the 28-years of constitutional government.

Candidates now have two weeks to file complaints or petitions for recounts.

With two parliament races decided by a single vote, and two more by just five-vote margins, many recount petitions are expected.

Opposition poll watcher Daisy Momotaro, whose husband Dennis Momotaro knocked off a three-term United Democratic Party senator, said even though he won, she’s been challenging many aspects of the election administration because "we need to fix the problems so it’s fair for all candidates."

She expressed grave concern about what she said was improper vote counting at the end of last week that could have changed the outcome of several races.

Opposition Sen.-elect Tony deBrum claims the counting of outer island absentee votes and the reopening of one ballot box from Majuro late last week — nearly two weeks from when votes were originally tabulated – was illegal and cost the opposition several seats. "We are going to challenge this in court," he said.

If the tiny margins of victory hold up in anticipated recounts, there will be nine new faces when the Nitijela convenes on January 7, 2008 to elect a new President.

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