Marshall Islands National Election Takes Place

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Ballots from off-island communities the ‘wildcard’ in poll

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Nov. 17, 2015) – Marshall Islanders voted Monday in the every-four-year national election. The main challenge that faced voters could be heavy rains that have buffeted the country since Saturday, flooding roads. But Marshall Islands elections generally have strong voter turnouts no matter the weather conditions.

Although the run up to this year’s election has been relatively quiet and lacking in large political party campaign events, many candidates have heralded this vote as a watershed event that will shape government policy and plans heading into the final eight years of a funding agreement with the United States government.

A group of younger, first-time candidates have put on extended and aggressive campaigns in both Majuro and Kwajalein, two battleground voting wards that account for nearly 25 percent of the seats in parliament.

Kwajalein presents one of the most interesting races, with the Marshall Islands’ international climate spokesman Foreign Minister Tony deBrum facing a serious challenge to his re-election. The power of the Marshall Islands traditional system means that one of the three Kwajalein seats will be won by incumbent traditional chief Michael Kabua, the other two seats are a dogfight between incumbents deBrum and Jeban Riklon, who are facing their most serious challenge since 2003 from long-time senator and Kwajalein landowner Alvin Jacklick and David Paul, who runs the government’s utility company — both presenting credible challenges to the current leadership.

Election predictions in the Marshall Islands, however, are challenge. While increasing community discontent has been expressed in various ways concerning declining government services over the past few years, this discontent at the national level doesn’t necessarily translate to votes at the atoll level, which are usually according to family ties.

The wildcard in this election is a potentially huge offshore vote from America, which in the 2011 national election overturned the results of the domestic vote for three candidates. Out-migration has been steady, so there are more voters in the U.S. with increased possibilities for impact on the outcome. The question is whether postal ballots get to Majuro on time to be counted.

In the convoluted tabulation format used for elections here, postal absentee ballots cannot be counted until 14 days after election day.

So even though it is likely that by late this week, unofficial final results for the domestic vote will be available, tabulators will have to wait another week to 10 days to open, verify and then count the offshore votes. A final unofficial count of all votes is not anticipated before the first week of December.

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