Colonia, Yap -- The fourth candidate for Yap State Election commissioner to be interviewed by the Yap State Legislature during the past two years was at the center of a public hearing held on Feb. 22 in the legislature’s chamber.
In a letter to YSL Speaker Vincent Figir dated Feb. 8, Gov. Henry Falan nominated Christopher Buchun as the newest in the string of candidates stating that he, Lt. Gov. Jesse Salalu and other key staff members in his office had met with Buchun.
“We are confident that with his experience and credentials, he is the best candidate to take up the position,” Falan wrote. “We have no doubt that he will be able to undertake the task with the highest moral integrity, professionalism and foresight.”
Buchun was a loan officer with the FSM Development Bank and once worked for the Department of Education. He is now retired and serves on a community board that deals with land titles and other similar matters.
The position has been vacant since early 2019 when the prior commissioner retired after many years on the job.
With the next election coming up in 2022, the post — which is normally that of a check-the-box bureaucrat overseeing an election board to ensure a fair election system every four years — is suddenly being treated as an important one.
It has become a political football due, it is believed by some, to the competition between the pro-Chinese and anti-Chinese development factions among the elected leaders in the government that largely drove the 2018 election.
The nation’s closed borders have prevented the Chinese developers from visiting the island in the last year, but their influence is still felt.
Falan has cancelled a land lease on the basis of illegality for a government parcel in the middle of Colonia, the island’s only town.
The land had been handed to the developers by Falan’s predecessor, but the governor recently entered into a new lease on the property with a technology entrepreneur who is from Yap and plans to build a technology center that will train and employ Yapese citizens.
Construction began with the demolition of an abandoned building that had been on the central parcel for what some estimated was at least six decades.
The push for economic development proposals presented by foreign investors promising to bring thousands of tourists to the 38.5 square mile island of 7,000 residents, has not just pitted the citizens of the small island against each other, but has impacted the working relationship between executive and legislative officials.
Several months ago, the state’s Supreme Court justice facilitated a meeting between the traditional Council of Pilung with Falan and Figir to iron out their differences.
But some members of the legislature have continued their attempt to undermine the administration and put the governor and his team on the defensive in preparation for the next election, including, among other efforts, a petition distributed by one of the senators calling for the impeachment of the governor and lt. governor.
The petition has not been filed as of this writing.
Chinese developers, who had been attempting to build a large resort on the small island for several years, established strong ties with several of the candidates and incumbents prior to 2018 during a courtship that included trips to China, dinners and cash gifts, and even promises of future personal wealth and significantly enhanced infrastructure projects that involved a state-of-the-art hospital.
During the 2018 election, the developers supported the candidates who were on their side, including the incumbent governor, Tony Ganngiyan, with underwriting for their campaigns. One senator refused the offer of money and lost the election after a smear campaign.
Others who turned down the offer were able to hold onto their seats but not without concerted efforts to overcome the negative campaigning that spilled onto social media. The outcome was the turnover of the governor’s seat, but on the opposite side, it resulted in the strengthening of the pro-foreign development majority in the legislature.
The first three candidates named by Falan for election commissioner and vetted by the YSL’s Committee on Government Health & Welfare, were voted down based on unspoken, often old resentments and perceived issues from the past that the candidates were not questioned about.
Yap is a small island with a tangle of familial and community relationships that often play a part in politics, both personal and professional. Communication is indirect at best.
When Sen. Ted Rutun, chairman of the GHW Committee, asked him during the hearing if he had looked at the laws, roles and mandates for the office, and if he had any thoughts about changes or improvements that might be made to them.
Buchun replied that he had not and did not.
The chairman responded that he thought it was a strong point that Buchun was being honest.
Buchun did, however, add that he felt that there could be a stronger connection between the state and national election offices. He was not asked to elaborate and did not offer anything more.
It is not known if Buchun’s admittance of a lack of curiosity or knowledge about the job that he is interviewing for, and the election laws that govern it, will be a deciding factor in a government, where musical chairs is played every time a new administration arrives in office due to the limited number of candidates for the top jobs.