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 Déjà vu democracy

 Live from Saipan By Zaldy Dandan

“His daily toil is getting jobs for relatives and retainers. Sometimes he puts a dummy on the payroll and collects the dummy’s salary himself.”  H.L. Mencken, describing the tasks of a U.S. congressman.


Saipan — In politics, it seems that it’s Groundhog Day every day, but there is no character played by Bill Murray who is aware that we’re all stuck in a time loop. In each election year, candidates for office are promising what previous candidates in previous election years have vowed to accomplish, but didn’t or couldn’t. For their part, many voters who believed the campaign pledges of the past are willing to believe today’s campaign pledges without noticing that they’re the same promises.

Which candidate is not for economic development, education, scholarships, transparency, clean government, the environment, public safety, public health, etc.? Who among those seeking public office are not for the working people, the families, the children, the elderly, the “most vulnerable,” etc.? And which voter is not willing to elect an educated, honest, compassionate person with leadership skills? What candidate for office has declared that s/he has none of those qualities?

In every election year, candidates, more or less, say the same things, make the same promises, and many voters cast their ballots to elect the “right” candidates who will make a “huge difference.”

The next election year comes along and, well, déjà vu all over again, to quote the late baseball great Yogi Berra.

Consider: Here in the Northern Mariana Islands, a candidate for office accused his opponent, an incumbent official, of hiring his relatives and using his position to push policy that would benefit him financially.

That was one of the “issues” in the CNMI’s midterm election over 40 years ago. It was also among the issues in previous and succeeding elections.

In gubernatorial elections, the opposing candidates will usually end up calling each other a liar and/or corrupt/hypocrite.

The following are actual campaign slogans. They’re like Christmas decorations.

You can use them again and again.

    “Leadership you can count on.”

    “To serve the public better.”

     “Better Education.”

     “Better Health Care.”

     “Better Economic Opportunities.”

     “Better Retirement Benefits.”

     “Please vote for progress.”

   “Leadership with integrity, vision and compassion.”

   “For clean, honest and open government.”

   “Help me help you.”

Then and now, newspaper editorial writers will urge us to “vote wisely.” But is there any other way to vote? And yet it is not unusual that many of those who voted “wisely” in the previous election are more than willing to “kick the bum out” in the next election.

This is a midterm election year in the CNMI, and once again we hear concerned citizens describe an election as if it’s a classroom or a quiz show in which the “brightest” student or contestant ought to win. As if in the past, voters did not elect candidates who were smart and highly educated. But they did, and voters will continue electing candidates they find intellectually impressive.

However, in the CNMI’s case today, what can a politician with a high IQ do to “solve” the islands’ main problem, which is a declining tourism-based economy that can no longer pay for the government’s many obligations?

What policy or legislation can, if implemented or enacted, immediately boost tourist arrivals, attract new, legitimate investors, create new, good-paying jobs and generate additional revenue for a cash-starved government, which is also the main employer of local residents (i.e., voters), and has assured government retirees (i.e., voters) that they will continue to receive 100 percent of their pension even though the government is obligated to pay only 75 percent.


What else can the new candidates do that incumbent officials haven’t done or are already doing? Aren’t most, if not almost all, of the incumbent officials highly educated, experienced, trusted, honest individuals who promised to revive tourism, improve the economy, provide adequate funding for education, healthcare, public safety, etc., etc.?    

That was a year and half ago. The government is still practically broke. Education, healthcare, public safety, etc., still need more funding. Tourism numbers are still way below the pre-pandemic levels. Businesses — including the Hyatt! — are shutting down. People are leaving the islands.

Will “throwing the rascals out” (again) solve any of these problems?

Hold your breath at your own peril.

Zaldy Dandan is editor of the CNMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety. His fourth book, “If He Isn’t Insane Then He Should Be: Stories & Poems from Saipan,” is available on


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