Presidential candidates keep it in the family in Palau

 31 Oct 2016 - 8:51

Presidential candidates keep it in the family in Palau
This file photo taken on September 25, 2014 shows Palau's President Tommy Remengesau speaking during the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations in New York. AFP / JEWEL SAMAD


Koror, Palau: The Pacific island nation of Palau goes to the polls Tuesday with two brothers-in-law vying to become president -- and they admit it's made for some awkward conversations at the family dinner table.

The election pits incumbent Tommy Remengesau against Surangel Whipps Jr. after they emerged as the leading contenders in a run-off vote in September.

Whipps is married to Remengesau's sister but has not let family ties constrain his campaign as he seeks to end his rival's 12 years in office.

The challenger has campaigned on a platform of change, pointing to social problems in the nation of 22,000, which lies about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) east of the Philippines.

"We're in denial, our kids have no jobs. They're selling drugs and migrating en masse to the United States to look for opportunities," Whipps told a presidential debate this month in remarks translated from Palauan.

He said there was nothing personal in his campaign against his brother-in-law but he believed the country needed a new leader.

"I'm not angry with the president, we just approach things differently," he said.

"This is not about us, it's about Palau."

Remengesau won the run-off ballot comfortably, attracting 4,951 votes to Whipps' 3,762.

But Tuesday's decider promises to be far closer after two unsuccessful candidates threw their support behind Whipps.

Remengesau has implored voters "let's finish the job", arguing his policies have stabilised the economy and boosted tourism to the world-renowned diving destination.

He said the most difficult aspect of the election has not been debating the issues, but running against a member of his family.

"We can't be out in public and differ then come home to sit at a table and have dinner together," he said.

Remengesau elaborated on the theme in an interview with Pacific Note this month, saying Palauan culture encouraged respect for one's elders.

"It's certainly not in our culture, and it's very unusual because if you follow our culture you are not supposed to be running against a family member," he said.

Whipps, he added, "is married to my sister so he can afford to say negative things, but I cannot say negative things (against him)".