KESSAI H. NOTE ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS

By David Strauss Special to the Pacific Islands Report

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (January 3, 2000)---In the first election of the new millennium, Kessai H. Note was elected President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands by the Nitijela (Parliament), after a stunned incumbent President Imata Kabua declined to run after his candidate for Speaker was easily defeated by Note's candidate.

Note had previously been successful in both the High Court and Supreme Court when his actions as Speaker were challenged by former President Imata Kabua and two of his most powerful Cabinet Ministers, Tony deBrum and Philip Muller. Both deBrum and Muller suffered their first election defeats in November.

This is the first election in which a commoner has been elected President. Iroijlablab (Paramount Chief) Amata Kabua, from the nation's capital, Majuro Atoll, served as the country's first and only President from 1979 until his death in December 1996. The remainder of his term was filled by his cousin, Iroijlablab Imata Kabua, a powerful senator from Kwajalein Atoll where the United States has a military base (USAKA) which is used for satellite tracking and missile testing.

Note is the former Speaker of the Nitijela and is a member of the newly formed United Democratic Party (UDP) which upset the entrenched government party of Kabua in the national elections held November 15. Note ran unopposed for the Nitijela from the tiny island of Jabot and is also a member of the Bikini Atoll community.

The Nitijela elected UDP Chairman Litokwa Tomeing as Speaker by a vote of 20-13 over Vice-Speaker and Iroijlablab Jurelang Zedkaia of Majuro. Tomeing had earlier challenged the actions of President Kabua and his Cabinet in repeatedly boycotting Nitijela meetings to avoid a vote of no confidence. Both the High Court and Supreme Court found the actions of President Kabua and his Cabinet to be in violation of the Constitution and their oath of office. Tomeing is an Iroijedrik or traditional chief and represents Wotje Atoll.

Jurelang Zedkaia was unanimously elected Vice-Speaker.

The UDP's platform opposed gambling, storage of nuclear or toxic waste and the rampant corruption of the previous administration and the constant interference with the judiciary by the executive and legislative branches. In an 8-year period, 4 Chief Justices were forced to resign or were impeached.

The election of Note caps an unprecedented upset election process in Marshall Islands history. The government party, headed by Kabua, received millions of dollars from Taiwan following their diplomatic recognition in early 1999. The government party controlled the radio station and used the Outrigger Hotel and Capitol Building for their election activities. All of this backfired however and the government party suffered its first election defeat since the elections began in 1979.

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