(Palau, Pacific Note) -Tommy Remengesau, Jr. secured a historic win in the recent Palau election, making another mark in Palau’s political history through his recent reelection to a second four-year term as president, the second time he has done so. The race was in a dead heat with challenger Sen. Surangel Whipps Jr. ahead after early counting at one point.
Although Remengesau hit the front by the end of counting of votes within Palau, the incumbent was only ahead with a very slim margin of 78.
In the end Palauan voters overseas like those living in Guam and Saipan decided the final result.
But Remengesau’s victory was not achieved without anguish and shattered confidence while instilling hope for rival candidates. The final tally of overseas vote gave Remengesau a 256 vote lead over Whipps, Jr.
The margin was a surprise when everyone considered his re-election virtually in the bag after he emerged from a four person primary race with an almost 1,200 vote lead over Whipps, Jr., the second highest vote getter. Many observers went so far as to declare the race to be all but over, reminiscent of every victorious candidacy he has waged since his first race for public office in 1984. Remengesau ran for the senate in the 2nd Olbiil Era Kelulau (Palau National Congress) or OEK and won capping an unbroken string of successful elections including this election.
The outcome of this year’s election is a combination of some familiar elements such as getting the support of relatives, going off-island to campaign, sponsoring organizations such as providing uniforms, and so forth to reach out to voters. The result was also confirmation of a mature and solidified alliance within Palau’s political landscape, albeit without an ideology to identify with.
The election followed a hard-fought primary election that pitted President Remengesau against three big name politicians — former three-term delegate and current Vice President and Minister of Justice Antonio Bells, one time Vice President and senator Sandra Pierantozzi, and Whipps, who was a twice top vote-getter in the senate.
A hugely popular senator, Whipps not only received the highest number of votes for a senator in the history of the body; he received the most number of votes in both 2008 and 2012 senatorial races, proving his huge popularity. Whipps also remain the only person to be elected in the senate as a write-in candidate.
Remengesau was able to campaign on his legacy and what many consider a very charismatic personality, he relates to the common people and his ascent to the political arena is something that is hard to beat. . His experience in the OEK and previous experience as the Republic’s Chief Executive gave the candidate wide recognition, and ultimately, an electoral boost.
“I thank you for your support, faith and trust in having me continue to serve you as your president," he said in a statement released after the final vote counts.
Whipps, meanwhile, in a statement on his Facebook page, congratulated his brother–in-law stating that it’s now time to “come together” for the leadership and the new Congress.
“Our work that started last year in May has come to a conclusion with congratulations to President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. for securing another 4 year term as president of our country,” he said in the statement.
Remengesau’s win was an emotional one, he said it was a bittersweet victory and cost him a lot of money.
He characterized the financial mismatch in the race as a “David and Goliath” battle.
“I think we need to reform the election law and practices, It's a Goliath. You are talking about the richest man in Palau (Sen. Whipps). There should be a law that focuses on spending and election practices to give opportunity for anybody,” Remengesau said.
But with his victory, the president hopes for a continuance of his major initiatives which includes his famed Palau national marine sanctuary and high-end, high-value tourism.
On January 18, 2017 when the incoming elected leaders are sworn-in to office, Remengesau would be the only elected leader to have served nine of the 10th Constitutional Government of the republic as a senator, vice president and president.
Notwithstanding his political feat, Remengesau has been part of Palau’s development in building a self-sufficient nation for its citizens. However, history will be the final arbiter of his legacy.