Making change happen is your responsibility
Do not vote for the candidate who gives you beer and empty promises
Election season is here once more, and we are again at a crossroads.
The frustration with elected officials that many of us feel is understandable. We complain that they are corrupt and untrustworthy with only their self-interests in mind. You may be among those who refuse to vote because, you may say, it’s always the same and my vote won’t count anyway.
But you are wrong. Very wrong.
When you don’t exercise your right to vote, you are endorsing the very people you complain about. You are giving unspoken permission to those you purport to be “sick and tired of” when you do not cast your ballot. It is not enough to want change; you must make change happen by voting.
Yap has had a system of chiefdoms for thousands of years. The people are accustomed to do what the chiefs tell them to do and too often fear the consequences if they do not.
When an elective government was instituted during the time of the Trust Territory, it was a game changer. Today, thanks to that critical decision, we as citizens have the preponderant responsibility and paramount right to vote without the interference or directive of someone we perceive as having the power to tell us what to do.
No one has control over us when it comes to voting. Our ballot is secret. No one will know who you or I voted for.
For the first time in 2018, the voters in Yap did not vote the way they were told to, or based on bribes of money, sacks of rice, cases of beer and other “gifts” traditionally but illegally given by the candidates.
According to the Yap State Constitution, bribery is punishable by $1,000 fine and one year in jail. This law has never been adhered to like so many other constitutional mandates that are conveniently ignored when they are not to the advantage of those in power. Even though they may have accepted what was offered by some candidates, the citizens of Yap voted independently of any directive or attempt to buy their valuable and desired votes.
On Yap, where tradition and culture are written into the constitution to be overseen by the two traditional councils as the fourth branch of government, it is expected that the gubernatorial candidates will seek the support of the Council of Pilung before submitting their petitions to run.
In all my years of running for office, I never asked for their support, nor did I give bribes to the voters, take rice, beer and money to the Outer Island chiefs, or play the game that has too often resulted in corrupt elected officials getting into office. Yet I won time and again.
We must continue to use the guarantee of self-choice wisely, vote with our heart and mind, and mark that ballot for the candidates we believe are best for Yap. My own vote is and always has been for democracy’s inherent promise that we can make our own choices about our future without fear of interception by an overlord, whether foreign or provincial, with selfish intentions.
This November, make your own educated decision about who you want to vote for. Know who you are voting for and what they stand for and how they have lived their lives. Do not vote for the candidate who gives you beer and empty promises or for those who have led less-than-honorable lives. Do not vote for family members unless you truly know and believe they are the best candidate.
A democracy is “of the people, by the people and for the people.” It is not of, by and for the elected leaders. They represent you and are accountable to you and it is your duty to hold them accountable once they are in office whether you voted for them or not.
Elections are vital to the quality of the state’s governance and can either greatly advance or set back Yap’s long-term development. Elections reflect the will of the people. As such, they must be transparent, inclusive, and accountable. It is your job as a citizen to ensure that all elections meet these criteria.
But you are not alone in that responsibility. It is also the obligation of the election commissioner, the attorney general and the state legislature to ensure that the welfare of the people is protected and carried out.
The establishment of a democratic government did not replace the chiefs, who have their place in our culture and our society. But their place is no longer in telling the electorate who to vote for. We are no longer living in a chiefdom where one person has total political power over a group of people.
It is time to stand up for your rights and exercise your voice and your power to ensure that the here-and-now and the future are in line with your beliefs, aspirations and wishes for you, your family, and our precious homeland.
And finally, continue to be involved after the inauguration next January. It’s your duty as a citizen to stand up for your democratic, constitutional rights of free speech and the accountability of those who are elected. It is your right to question those who are in public office, to attend public hearings, and to voice your opinion without fear of retribution.
This November election remains a critical time in Yap’s history for many reasons. Primary among them is the future of our island which is at the center of the geopolitical conflict between China and the U.S. Although I believe strongly that the U.S. will never abandon Yap due to its strategic geographical location between Guam and Palau, we cannot and must not sit idly by while some candidates favor selling out to foreign interests that do not have our best interests in mind. Register to vote. Ask hard questions of the candidates. Then mark your ballot for those candidates you believe will best represent you, your family and community and will make the right decisions for your motherland today and far into the future.
Nge falan'e Thagith rodad! Ma kammagar mu magar gad.
Henry Falan is the former governor of Yap. Send comments to email@example.com.