Palau Presidential Election Pits Incumbent Against Brother-In-Law

Remengesau laments 'very unusual' election; cultural values mean family shouldn't run against each other

By Junhan B. Todiño

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 11, 2016) – It is “very unusual” for family members to run against each other in a presidential election, according to Palau President Tommy Remengesau who is seeking a fourth term against Sen. Surangel Whipps Jr., his brother-in-law.

Remengesau and Whipps finished first and second in the primary election in September. The two other candidates were Palau Vice President Antonio Bells and Sen. Sandra Pierantozzi.

“It’s certainly not in our culture, and it’s very unusual because if you follow our culture you are not supposed to be running against a family member,” Remengesau told Variety on Sunday during his campaign event at the Minatchom Atdao pavilion on Beach Road.

His supporters interviewed by this reporter said Palauans should respect their elders and must not ignore the advice and counsel of their elders.

However, they said, some members of the new generation “will not be swayed and influenced” especially if they believe they are right.

Remengesau said he still respects Whipps.

“And I have to continue to ask my supporters that we respect the fact that he is my brother-in-law,” he added.

He said part of the reason why he has won the support of the Palauan people is that “we believe in culture and culture means you respect your elders.”

Whipps, he added, “is married to my sister so he can afford to say negative things, but I cannot say negative things [against him].”

Remengesau said he will continue to work hard for the Palauans on Saipan who have given him a tremendous amount of support.

“I think they contributed a lot to why we are very strong outside [Palau],” the president said.

Remengesau was accompanied by Sen. Philipp Reklai who is also seeking re-election.

Remengesau believes that his platform is one of the factors for his victory in the primary election.

“I think people agree with my platform that we need to preserve the best and improve the rest — it’s our plan that growth is not just opening Palau to anything that comes to Palau for economic development.”

Palau recently celebrated its 22nd Independence Day, and is now at a critical juncture, Remengesau said.

“It shows that while we are maturing we still have a long way ahead of us as a young nation, so it’s important to put the framework of our development in place. It’s important to set a positive course of action by which we can ensure that as we grow and as we develop economically the Palauan identity is preserved, our Palauan culture, our Palauan way of life is preserved, our environment, our way of life as Palauan people is preserved.”

To ensure victory in November, he said he will reach out to the supporters of Pierantozzi and Bells.

Remengesau is optimistic that some of them will join him.

“When you have a field of four very prominent and very high caliber candidates and you win over 50 percent of the primary vote, I think that’s a lot of votes and they show the trust and faith that the people have in a candidate.

“I know I will get some of [the supporters of Pierantozzi and Bells] — it’s not like I’m not going to get a single supporter from among them. Already some elements in their factions have come to our side, so I am pretty sure we’re going to get some because we’re working hard and we are asking for their help.”

Marianas Variety
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