Election 2012 Less About Issues

By Kambes Kesolei —-

The results of the November 6 general election have been certified. The election saw 68.8 percent of the total registered voters cast their ballots. Sen. Remengesau won the presidential contest with a clear majority of 57.9 percent of the total vote casts.  For the vice presidency, Tony Bells won the support of half the voters. In fact, he won with slimmest of majority vote margin with 50.01 percent.

Three members of the senate majority group were thrown out by the voters, while the minority bloc increased their number of seats to secure the leadership of the incoming senate. All new senators-elect are caucusing with the senate minority, and they include Rukebai Inabo, J. Uduch Sengebau-Senior, .Philip Reklai, and Mason Whipps.

Eight new delegates will be seated – including 3 former delegates – when the members of the 9th Olbiil Era Kelulau are sworn into office in January 15. Seven of the new delegates won against incumbents in the states of Airai, Ngchesar, Ngardmau, Ngatpang, Aimeliik, Angaur, Sonsorol, and Hatohobei.

Many political observers are actively commenting that the choices made by the voters were largely based on real issues that were debated and discussed openly. However, this line of thinking, in the absence of scientific election polls, fall short when the election is analyzed based purely on numbers.

In contrast, quite the opposite happened. The results support the premise that many voters still vote not on issues, but based largely on other dynamics at work. These include among others, the more pronounced factors of geography (candidates’ traditional village/where they live) and family relationships.

In analyzing the numbers, the parameters must be set by identifying the election issues. Using the successful presidential campaign of Sen. Remengesau, which I interviewed him several times on radio and television, among the major issues were government transparency, hiring of special prosecutor, over expenditure, pension plan, ADB loan, minimum wage, and reduction of the salary of the nationally elected leaders.

With the issues identified let’s move to analyze the election in a precinct level.

In Airai, the home village of President Toribiong, the president was expected to win, which he did by 53 percent. No surprise there. Toribiong held the title of Ngiraked, chief of Airai, before he became president. As for Remengesau, there wasn’t any doubt that he was going to win Ngaraard, the only question was how big is it going to be. Remengesau won by 68 percent. It was a given that both candidates would win their respective village stronghold, regardless of what issues were placed on the table.

The race for the vice president saw Vice President Kerai Mariur winning Ngarchelong by 74 percent of the vote cast. In Ngaraard, Tony Bells won by 66 percent. These two contestants both serve multiple terms representing Ngarchelong and Ngaraard in the House of Delegates, respectively. No overarching issues were identified, except that they were simply two favorite sons of their respective villages.

For the senate, we have examples of Rukebai Inabo in Ngarchemai and Uduch Senior in Ngerbeched. These are their strong holds and comes 2016, it will not be issues that will propel their huge popularity in these villages, but for the reasons that they are long established with family roots and friends.

Sen. Regis Akitaya in Idid Hamlet and Angaur and Joel Toribiong in Airai and Ngaremlengui as well as many other candidates profited from such a voting alignment.

Consequently, similar trends of support can be seen in states where family and clan relations are stronger and correspondingly as they expand outward to include other precincts.

Issues also did nothing to drive the results of the races for the House of Delegates. If issues were the key to win elections, it is difficult to see Del. Secilil Eldebechel losing to Sabino Anastacio. Del. Eldebechel issues of concern were aligned with Sen. Remengesau and the senate minority bloc. If issues gave Remengesau a 61 percent vote of confidence in Ngchesar, it didn’t improve the chance for the reelection of Del. Eldebechel.

Rafael of Angaur, Kesolei of Ngardmau, Andrew of Hatohobei, and Yangilmau of Sonsorol met the same fate as the delegate from Ngchesar.

Those who observe politics knows that the House of Delegates was visibly divided. Speaker Noah Idechong leads a faction that supports the administration’s policy line. These include floor leader Gibson Kanai, Swenny Ongidobel, Jerry Nabeyama, Marhence Madrangchar, Lentcer Basilius, Tmewang Rengulbai, and half the time Jonathan Isechal.

The other delegates, majority of which lost the election, took the side of argument similar to those in the senate minority,which include the winning presidential candidate Sen. Remengesau. However, if issues worked extremely well for Remengesau, certainly there was no evidence of it in the elections to the many incumbents who lost their seats.

Not to appear too deterministic, but when the election cycle is repeated again in 2016, geography, family and clan relations, name recognition, money, etc. will continue to be the major factors dictating the results.

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One Comment to “Election 2012 Less About Issues”

  1. Thank you, Kambes. I agree that family and clan relations play a significant role in Palau elections. However, there are no polls to either substantiate your premise or that of the contrary.

    However, there is one thing to consider. Why, if Remengesau has such numerous loyal relatives, did he have much fewer votes when he ran for his current senate seat in 2008? Let us remember that he was among the last of the thirteen senators elected for this current senate term.

    Why then does he now have much more support to return to the presidency? Again, I agree with you that primitive notions still play a large part in Palauan elections. I am simply saying that we should not underestimate the wisdom of Palauan voters. Let us not be elitist and simply believe the majority of our uneducated, working-class people are for that reason gullible and ignorant.

    We all know President Toribiong has a unique personality. You said yourself he is far more academic in disposition than a more down-to-earth and approachable Remengesau. You noted that Remengesau stressed that, among other things, government must be compassionate. Considering the many legal entanglements the supposed decorated lawyer the president is was expected to avoid and instead made him appear abrupt and autocratic, not to mention the whole Uighur issue and all it brings into question on matters of budgetary procedure and conflict of interest, I believe it is responsible to consider that, at least for the presidency, Palauans did vote in this election on issues. I know my family and friends did. Again, there are no polls to argue either assertion, but it seems both types of voters affected this election, to what extent each did we do not know in terms of conventional polling.

    Chin-Seid basically split the Peleliu vote in the 2008 elections with Toribiong-Mariur. Chin is arguably more of Peleliu than is Remengesau in terms of traditionlly perceived political bases. Can we not argue that the failed UKIHL/Morris Davidson experiment (scam, rather) ended Peleliu support to Toribiong. Certainly, the several-times vandalized plaque honoring the idea of the proposed Nautilus City gauges at least part of the Peleliu electorate.

    From the AG gag order to the Uighurs to an unprecedented attempt at legitimizing illegal overexpenditures, and many others, President Toribiong has mired himself in so many controversial decisions it would be irresponsible to assert that voters sent Toribiong packing simply becasue they are related to Remengesau. I know voters who personally voted for Remengesau who quite frankly can’t stand the guy but voted for him because, in their words, “he is the lesser of two evils.”

    Remengesau barely won a senate seat in the current OEK but easily returned to the presidency. Perhaps the people see the legislative as a greater body with opportunity for discourse among several whereas the president, for obvious reasons, is more of a singular and more independent position with unique powers. Maybe for the presidency, Palauans favor less of an autocratic personality. Maybe they believe the nature of the congress prevents autocrats from easily arising among the ranks of senators and delegates but as president they need a more controllable or at least less uncontrollable Caesar.

    I believe that, at least in this election, people voted on issues on the presidency but to a lesser degree with their senators and much less for the House of Delegates.

    Yes, chicken leg quarters and Budweiser (or is it Asahi these days?) play a role in electing heads of state and government in Palau. But certainly not for the likes of my uneducated dear grandmother in her late seventies who has never had a drink in her life and avoids imported food religiously in favor of real, Palauan food and she is a political genius.

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