Palauans are awaiting the results of Tuesday’s elections that will shape Palau’s recovery from coronavirus-triggered economic slump, as well as its renewed relationship with the United States.
In the presidential race, prelimimary results from five precincts as of 2 a.m. showed Sen. Surangel Whipps Jr., leading over Vice President Raynold Oilouch by a small margin. Whipps received 1,169 votes against Oilouch's 1,063.
The two are vying to succeed Tommy Remengesau, whose second term expires this year. The new president will take over the nation’s pending initiatives such as the renegotiation of the expiring terms of the Compact of Free Association as well as Palau’s offer to accommodate more military presence within its jurisdiction.
For the vice presidential race, J. Uduch Sengebau Senior garnered 111, ahead of Frank Kyota who received 1,080.
Palauans also cast their votes for senators and members of the House of Delegates. Palau has no political parties, and all candidates are running as independents.
According to Island Times’ latest update on its Facebook page last night, “Digital counting of ballots have begun with Ngarchelong ballots first.”
Island Times noted a technical glitch during the digital tabulation. “One ballot could not be read by the machine due to very light shading so has to be shown to all poll watchers and watched while PEC *Board member darken the shade on the ballot.”
Whipps and Oilouch advanced to the general election after the September primary that eliminated Alan Seid and Johnson Toribiong.
In the primary, Whipps had a wide lead over Oilouch—which according to local political observers gave a sneak preview of the final outcome of the presidential race.
Whipps, a local businessman and Remengesau’s brother-in-law, ran on a platform that backs tax reforms and expanded investments in education.
Oilouch, who branded himself as a “grassroots candidate,” campaigned for the preservation of Palau’s way of life and identity.
Palau quickly shut down its borders at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. While it is among the very few countries that have kept clear of the pandemic, the Pacific nation is not spared from the impact of the pandemic.
The Asian Development Bank has projected Palau’s economy to contract by 9.5 percent in 2020 and 12.8 percent in 2021. A separate forecast released in June by the Graduate School USA's Economic Monitoring and Analysis Program projected Palau to experience a 22.3 percent decline in GDP and a loss of 3,128 jobs, primarily in the private sector.
Tourism, the backbone of Palau’s economy, comprises about 80 percent of the nation’s total GDP and employs over 75 percent of the workforce. The closure of Palau’s borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic has paralyzed its visitor industry.