Shortly after claiming victory in a close gubernatorial race, incoming Gov. Benigno Fitial and Lt. Gov. Timothy Villagomez raised a call for unity among its supporters and political opponents and urged everyone to set politics aside amid hard economic times.
The camp of Fitial and Villagomez also lauded their closest rival tandem in the gubernatorial race, Heinz Hofschneider and David Apatang, who reportedly told their supporters to back the incoming administration.
“Now that the elections are over, we would like the people to set politics aside and work together to achieve a common goal,” said Charles Reyes, spokesman for Fitial’s Covenant Party.
While Fitial vowed to focus on the CNMI’s economy once he assumes the CNMI’s top executive post in January, the governor-elect disclosed Saturday night that he would task Villagomez to form a transition committee in preparation for his takeover of the CNMI government.
Reyes explained that the committee would evaluate the current situations in each government agency, come up with plans and potential solutions, and appoint key people to implement those solutions.
He said there are no confirmed would-be Cabinet members yet, since the transition committee has yet to be formed. But Reyes assured that the committee would select qualified and competent people to handle key positions in government.
When asked about the possibility of inviting political opponents to join the administration, Reyes said: “We want to be inclusive as possible. Anybody who has good ideas, we would want to consider.”
“We want to make alliances. The general feeling is we want results. We want to get the hard tasks done,” Reyes added.
The CNMI has been suffering from an economic downtrend based on various indicators such as reduced visitor arrivals, garment factory closures and downsizing, and rising prices of commodities impacted by the high global oil price. The government has also been collecting less revenue, particularly from user fee collections.
Tourism further slowed down after Japan Airlines pulled out from Saipan, resulting in lower visitor arrivals and downsizing of operations by industry players.
Fitial said his administration’s focus would be on the CNMI’s economy, adding that a vibrant economy entails the provision of better education and public services to the Commonwealth people.
The governor-elect said he would meet with the CNMI’s business leaders to ask them for support for his administration, “So we can help them continue to do business in the CNMI.”
Fitial also said he would meet with potential investors from Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea to invite them to do business in the CNMI.
Fitial-Villagomez garnered 3,809 votes—or 28.07 percent of the total votes. Independent candidates Hofschneider and Apatang followed closely with 3,710 votes, or 27.34 percent of the total votes.
Incumbent Gov. Juan N. Babauta and Lt. Gov. Diego T. Benavente of the Republican Party finished with 3,610 votes, or 26.6 percent. Democratic Party candidates Froilan C. Tenorio and Antonio A. Santos, who had conceded to opponents days after the elections, got 2,442 votes, or 17.99 percent.
It was a long wait for the final poll results since the Commonwealth Election Commission partially completed the counting of votes a day after the Nov. 5 elections. Without the absentee votes, Fitial and Villagomez led the race with 3,497 votes, 126 votes ahead than the 3,371 votes for Hofschneider and Apatang, and 269 votes higher than Babauta-Benavente’s 3,228 votes.
Babauta-Benavente topped the absentee votes with a score of 382; Hofschneider-Apatang followed closely with 339 votes; Fitial-Villagomez got 312 votes; and Tenorio-Santos picked up 186 votes.
Babauta-Benavente and Hofschneider-Apatang’s edge over Fitial-Villagomez in the absentee votes failed to overtake the lead by the winning candidates. In the overall tally, Fitial-Villagomez led Hofschneider-Apatang and Babauta-Benavente by 99 and 199 votes, respectively.
The CEC counted 1,227 absentee votes Saturday. The CEC received 1,378 election returns from absentee voters, but 151 of those ballot envelopes were rejected for various reasons: 72 had indecipherable postmarks; 29 were postmarked after the Nov. 5 deadline; 28 had no affidavit included; 16 had no authorization; five were deemed exposed ballots; and one failed to comply with mailing requirements.