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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 8) – The opposition party is back in power in the Marshall Islands after eight years with the election of former Speaker Litokwa Tomeing on Monday afternoon.

Tomeing defeated two-term incumbent Kessai Note by the slim margin of 18-15 in Monday’s parliamentary vote.

The vote returns a traditional chief to the presidency following eight years under Note, the first commoner to be president of the country.

The opposition, with the support of several independent senators, also elected Jurelang Zedkaia, another traditional chief, as speaker of the parliament.

But the vice speaker spot went to Alik Alik, a member of Note’s party, by a one-vote margin 17-16.

The parliament recessed until Jan. 14 to allow Tomeing time to name his cabinet. But the cabinet lineup is expected to be announced by mid-week.

Tomeing’s election and the change in government is expected to bring major changes in relations with the United States, the country’s major aid donor. Tomeing’s party — Aelon Kein Ad (Our Islands) — objects to the terms of a U.S. agreement for long-term use of an important missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll, and is calling for changes to the amount of rent paid to traditional landowners.

At the conclusion of Monday’s Nitijela opening, Kotak Loeak, the chairman of the Council of Chiefs, strongly criticized the government’s conduct of the Nov. 19 national election, saying many Marshallese were denied their right to vote.

"Thank God we have our culture to safeguard us," Loeak said.

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