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CNMI welcomes a new political era


Gov.-elect Arnold Palacios, right, and Lt. Gov.-elect David Apatang hold a press conference after winning the Nov, 25 gubernatorial runoff. Photo courtesy of Palacios-Apatang campaign office


By Bryan Manabat Saipan—Outgoing Gov. Ralph DLG Torres aptly described the CNMI’s recently concluded gubernatorial election as “a wild ride.” It was preceded by the usual political mudslinging, breakups and alliances.


That is what democracy is about. In elections there arise divisions as we put our names forward to do the incredibly difficult task of leading our islands, but when the people speak and place their confidence in an individual to serve, we must respect their voices, join together and continue to work to bring our islands forward toward prosperity,” Torres said after losing to his estranged lt. governor, Arnold Palacios, in the Nov. 25 runoff.


Palacios distanced himself from Torres at the height of allegations of corruption that led to an unsuccessful attempt to impeach the Republican governor.


“This campaign season has come to an end, and it is now time to heal and come together to rebuild the relationships that may have been broken. Although our wish was that it didn’t happen, it was evident that our community was divided,” said Torres, who will pass the baton to Palacios in January.


Palacios and his running mate, Saipan Mayor David Apatang, who ran under the Independent Party, garnered 54.05 percent of the total votes counted, while Torres and his running mate, Sen. Vinnie Sablan, received 45.95 percent.

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The Palacios-Apatang team clinched additional votes from the supporters of the Democratic team, Rep. Tina Sablan and her running mate, Rep. Leila Staffler, who came in last in the Nov. 8 general elections. Endorsements from Sablan and Staffler gave the Independent team a commanding lead of 1,060 votes over their Republican opponents.


"Your support of our vision to rebuild trust in our government touched our hearts. Together, we will rebuild trust and bring the change our people voted for. We share this success with you," Palacios said, addressing Sablan and Staffler who joined the press conference on Nov. 28.

“We have a commitment, and the unity pledge stands. We honor that, and we will pursue it to make sure that things are done right for our people in this Commonwealth,” Apatang said.


Torres’s term was challenged by a series of typhoons and a pandemic that shattered the CNMI, and was marked by controversies involving the casino industry on Saipan.


Assuming governance in the post-Covid era, the Palacios-Apatang administration is inheriting the task of driving the CNMI economy on the road to recovery.


Palacios said the incoming administration’s transition committee will include Sablan and Staffler, whose first task is to open the government’s financial books.


"We will look through all of it because that is part of the CNMI’s healing process. Sometimes you need to air everything out in order to make sure that, if there were any wrongdoings, we correct them,” Palacios said.


“We’re not going to do it out of vendetta; it just has to be done. The public deserves that and that is one of our promises from the very beginning; that we will open the books and be very transparent about it," he added.


While vowing “not to step on anybody's legal rights,” Palacios said “those who are flagrantly responsible for any wrongdoing would have to be held accountable for their actions.”


“That’s part of good governance. In order for us to right the ship, so to speak, we need to know what is wrong. What happens if the guy that steers the canoe is the one that’s wrong? We have to right that by replacing him with somebody else if that’s what we have to do. It’s not something that I relish doing, but if that’s what we have to do, to right our government, that to me, is simple,” Palacios said.


Torres said he is looking forward to a smooth transition of government. “I am also looking forward to spending time with my family and children in the months ahead,” he said. “I am excited to have more time to be a father, a husband, and a proud resident of this great commonwealth in the years ahead.”


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