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Yap narrowly votes for political status review; constitutional change in the offing


 The Yap Election Commission has completed the tabulation of ballots cast during a May 31 referendum on Yap's political status review. Photo courtesy of Yap Government via Facebook  

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan


Yap voters gave the nod to a review of the state’s political status, a decision that would commence the process for Yap’s constitutional amendment to unlock other status options for one of the four sovereign jurisdictions of the Federated States of Micronesia.

 

Unofficial results released by the Yap Election Commission showed the "yes" votes prevailing by a small margin.


Of the 2,045 voters who cast ballots in the May 31 referendum, 1,072 voted “yes” while 943 voted “no.” The commission marked 30 spoiled ballots.

 

“In conclusion, this was the voice of the people of Yap answering the question: ‘Shall the State of Yap commence a review of its political status?’" the commission announced over the weekend.


Once certified, the outcome of the vote would pave the way for the constitutional amendment process and usher in the political status discussions that may reshape the future of Yap.

 

The commission posted the results on Facebook after completing the tabulation of the remaining 28 ballot boxes on June 21.


The first partial tabulation of votes early this month indicated a strong "yes" vote. The Department of Youth and Civic Affairs reported on June 3 that the first batch of tabulated ballots showed 456 votes for yes, 153 votes for no, and eight spoiled ballots, with a total of 617 votes cast.


“The disparity in rates of ‘yes’ votes between partial unofficial results released June 3 and those unofficial results released June 22 suggest significant placed-based and or group-based differences in voting patterns, according to Habele Institute, a nonprofit group established by former U.S. Peace Corps volunteers.

 

Habele noted that the June 22 vote results “imply that support was strongest among Yapese on Yap and the Outer Island community on Yap,” with 74 percent agreeing to commence the political status review.


“Among the total of Outer Islanders in the Outer Islands, and all Yapese and Outer Islanders outside of Yap State, 55 percent voted ‘no.’ Still, the total results found 52 percent of all voters choosing ‘Yes,’” Habele said.


The institute noted that the Yapese citizens who have migrated to the United States and its territories recognize the potential impact of Yap’s political status change on the U.S. migration policy for the FSM.


The Compact of Free Association authorizes FSM citizens to travel, live and work on any U.S. soil. Visa-free migration is among the COFA provisions granted to the FSM in exchange for the U.S. military’s defense rights in the Pacific nation.


Washington considers Yap an important component of U.S. homeland security. The U.S. is investing millions in Yap’s critical facilities, such as the international airport, which is being eyed as the military’s divert airfield and site for training exercises.

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Sam Illesugam, a Yapese citizen who has been a longtime resident of Guam, said he voted “no,” a decision precipitated by concerns that any policy change might affect his and his family’s immigration status.


Several Yapese residents on Guam and those living in the U.S. mainland share such apprehension, he added.


But I understand why most voted yes,” Illesugam said, stressing that Yap is isolated and alienated from the Palikir-based FSM national government. 


“The FSM is a loose federation. We do not know what’s going on in Palikir,” he said.


Detached from central government affairs, Yap’s needs are often overlooked and its development is stunted, Illegusam said. “Out of sight, out of mind,” he added.


Yap officials could not be reached for comment as of this writing.


While millions of dollars have been allocated for Yap, the fund transfer is stalled in a Catch-22 situation.


“Yap cannot start its projects because the national government is not releasing the funds,” Illegusam said. “The national government is not releasing the funds because Yap is not starting its projects.”


While the “yes” vote may not necessarily lead to a political status change,  Illegusam said the referendum's outcome represented a political statement of sorts.


He referred to the referendum result as an “expression of frustrations” over the national government's unfair treatment of Yap.


But the possibility of Yap seceding from the FSM may be a long shot, he said.


“I would support it if I see that we can run our own government," Illegusam said. “Money is not a problem in Yap. The problem is leadership. If we can't handle ourselves as a state, how can we be capable of running Yap as a country?”


The law authorizing the referendum on Yap’s political status review does not include a discussion on secession or independence.


When he signed the referendum bill last year, Yap Gov. Charles Chieng noted that its main objective was "to gauge the will of the people of Yap."


He warned that enacting the bill "may be detrimental to the interests of the State of Yap in dealing with the other sister states, the FSM national government or other governments in the region."


However, the Yap governor agreed that "the time is ripe" to raise the political status question.


"In view of our economic stagnancy, social problems, faltering educational programs and overwhelming health care issues," Chieng said in a letter to the legislature, "it is overwhelmingly important for the people of the State of Yap to have an opportunity to voice their thoughts on the direction our government should be taking on their behalf."





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