Former legislator wins three-way race for Yap governor
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
First woman elected to Yap State Legislature joins other new faces in the chamber
By Joyce McClure
Former legislator Charles Chieng won a three-way race to become Yap’s next governor, beating the incumbent governor, Jesse Salalu, and former Cabinet official James Gartamag Lukan.
Chieng and his running mate, Francis Itimai, who is currently the chief of staff in the state governor’s office, garnered 1,640 votes, according to the unofficial results announced on Nov. 18.
Salalu and his running mate, Arnold Yokbay Ken, a school administrator for the Department of Education, garnered 1,298 votes. Salalu assumed the governor’s seat when former Gov. Henry Falan was impeached in December 2021.
Gartamag Lukan, a former director of the Department of Resources & Development, and his running mate, Santus Bugomal, a former special education teacher at Falalop Woleai Elementary School and now with the Department of Health Services, received 759 votes.
In Yap, as in other states of the Federated States of Micronesia, there are no formal political parties and all candidates run as independents.
Yap candidates run in teams for governor and lt. governor and each pair must be composed of one candidate from the main island and one from an outer island. The governor and lt. governor team wins by plurality vote.
This year’s election is considered critical given Yap’s emerging role in U.S. homeland security as the Pentagon expands its power posture in the Indo-Pacific region.
Yap is the site of the aborted multimillion resort project proposed by China’s ETG. Observers believe Beijing’s influence interferes with local politics, and resulted in Falan’s impeachment due to his resistance to Chinese developers.
Washington has invested millions of dollars in local infrastructure, including the $37 million renovation of the Yap airport, which is likely to be used as an alternative “staging area” in the event a conflict erupts.
Chieng served in the legislature from 2003 to 2015 where he was speaker of the 7th Yap State Legislature and a member and chair of the Resource, Education and Development Committee. With bachelor’s degrees in political science and secondary education, and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning, his background also includes serving as administrator of automatic data processing for the FSM Finance Department.
Itimai served as director of Yap’s Office of Planning and Budget and of the Department of Youth and Civic Affairs, as well as the secretary of the FSM Department of Transportation, Communications & Infrastructure among other state and national appointments. He was the running mate of then Gov. Tony Ganngiyan in the 2018 election, losing to Falan and Salalu. He then became director of the Office of Planning & Budget before becoming Falan’s chief of staff.
Chieng and Itimai ran on a platform of maintaining sound, cooperative and productive intra-relationships among governmental branches and departments; greater transparency and community engagement; and, supporting the state Constitution, governmental reform, capacity growth, and encouraging a governmental work ethic via accountability and targeted programs.
Although the election took place on Nov. 8 and the ballots from the main island were counted at that time, locked ballot boxes from Guam, Saipan, Palau, Pohnpei, Hawaii and the Outer Islands had to be flown and shipped in. Voters living in the U.S. and other foreign countries submitted absentee ballots.
According to the Yap Election Office’s website, Yapese migrants accounted for 15 percent of the FSM’s 49,840 Micronesians living abroad based on the 2012 census.
Winners for the 11th legislature’s 10 seats include Anne Marie Lamaar, the first woman to serve in that capacity in Yap, with 1,009 votes, the second highest number of votes among the candidates. Lamaar is the operations manager for JC Company, her family’s construction firm, and the former manager of Community AYUW Services Credit Union.
Returning incumbents in the legislature representing the main island are Nicholas Figirlaarwon, who received the highest number of votes, Ted Rutun and John Mafel. In addition to Lamaar, new faces in the legislature will be Victor Bamog and Liyon Sulog.
Bamog is currently the director of the Office of Planning & Budget while Sulog served as the CEO of the 2018 MicroGames that were held in Yap and, prior to the Games, was with Yap’s Early Childhood Center, a division of the Department of Education.
The Outer Islands will be represented by incumbent John Masewemai, write-in candidates Pius Talimeisei and Terence Fong, and Gabriel Ramoloilug. Ramoloilug is currently the director of the Office of Administrative Services while Fong is vice principal at Outer Islands High School in Ulithi. Talimeisei is the state’s budget chief.
Several long-time incumbents in the legislature, including Speaker Vincent Figir, did not seek reelection. Some believe it was due to the opposition by many voters to their impeachment of Falan and their past support of Chinese developers among other things.