’22 election season ends with today’s runoff race


Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios retrieves his identification card after showing it to a Commonwealth Election Commission staff in order to vote for the runoff election at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe yesterday. Also in the photo is the Democratic Party’s defeated gubernatorial candidate Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan), who is endorsing the candidacy of Palacios and his running mate, Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang, for the runoff race. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE)

Thousands are going to make their voices heard today, Friday, in a combative runoff election between the tandem of young and aggressive Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Sen. Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan (R-Saipan), of the well-oiled Republican Party machinery, and a team of seasoned politicians Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang, of the unified independent team, as the 2022 election season finally winds down.

In the short history of CNMI runoff races, it’s always the incumbent that prevails. But with the Democratic Party’s defeated gubernatorial candidates, Reps. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) and Leila F. Staffler (D-Saipan) endorsing Palacios-Apatang, this makes this year’s runoff race too close to call.

Torres-Sablan topped the general elections after receiving 5,728 votes, while Palacios-Apatang came in second after obtaining 4,890 votes.

Commonwealth Election Commission executive director Kayla S. Igitol said yesterday that they are prepared for today’s runoff election.

The polling precincts on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota will be open today at 7am and close at 7pm. Manual counting of votes is expected to immediately follow at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe.

Initial CEC data showed that 6,540 have already cast their votes in the early voting for the runoff election.

Palacios and Apatang, who built their campaign on a theme of “Rebuilding Trust,” voted together at the multi-purpose center yesterday morning, which was the last day of the seven-day early voting.

Sablan and Staffler met Palacios and Apatang in the parking lot of the multi-purpose center granted interviews with reporters, and then cast their votes.

Palacios and Apatang came with few supporters.

Palacios, 67, said they decided to get the voting done yesterday, it being Thanksgiving Day.

Palacios said he is looking at the early voting numbers and believes it’s pretty much the same with the Nov. 8 general elections. “I’m glad that people are coming out to vote and that they are energized,” he said.

Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang hands over his identification card to a Commonwealth Election Commission staff in order to vote at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe yesterday. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE)

As to the mudslinging exchanged by both camps, Palacios said a lot of that are happening on social media and that he and even Torres cannot control the people and individuals doing it.

“I hope that, at the end of the day, when this is all done, that we will as a community come together and heal pretty fast. We’ve done that before,” said Palacios, adding that the runoff is “very contentious.”

He said he continues to ask their supporters to tone down the campaign and be civil.

Palacios also stated that there is no truth to the Torres-Sablan campaign materials saying he had a heart attack three months ago. “A lot of fabrication has been coming out,” Palacios said.

Apatang, 74, said he is happy to vote on Turkey Day and that he invites voters to vote for Palacios and him, who are No. 1 on the ballot.

Sablan said her message to everyone who is registered to vote and haven’t voted yet is to make sure that they make their voices heard. She urged all of their supporters to stay the course and stay together and vote for Palacios-Apatang.

Staffler asked voters not to be distracted. “Stay the course and vote No. 1 [for] Arnold and Dave,” Staffler said.

Torres, 43, urged the community yesterday to come out and vote for the leader “who has been there for them.”

Torres urged voters to choose the one who has given their all to provide opportunities, protect retirees, build the economy, does many infrastructure projects and roads, increase scholarships, and was able to bring in new airlines.

“I humbly ask to please vote No. 2 on the ballot for Sen. Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan and [me]. Thank you for all the blessings and vote of confidence,” the governor said.

Torres and 45-year-old Sen. Sablan voted last Sunday. They carried a campaign theme of “Resilience and Visionary Leadership.”

Igitol said yesterday that the pace of the seven-day early voting was pretty good and the total amount of voters is high.

At 9am yesterday, which was the last day of early voting, the CEC had 110 voters at the multi-purpose center, she said.

“And then it’s starting to calm down because it’s Thanksgiving Day,” Igitol said.

She said Tinian and Rota are also prepared for the runoff election.

Igitol said they expect the manual counting to be completed fast.

“Please come out and exercise your right to vote,” she said.

Torres is no stranger to a runoff election.

He was the running mate of then-governor Eloy S. Inos under the Republican Party when their tandem defeated the independent team of Heinz S. Hofschneider and Ray N. Yumul in the Nov. 21, 2014, runoff race with a big 1,744 margin.

In that four-way gubernatorial race, defeated gubernatorial candidates Juan N. Babauta (independent) and Edward M. Deleon Guerrero (Democrat) immediately conceded and endorsed Inos-Torres for the runoff election.

Hofschneider topped the general elections in 2009, but failed to gain a majority, paving a runoff against then-incumbent governor Benigno R. Fitial. Fitial eventually won the runoff by a margin of 370 votes.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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