Chuuk considers independence vote on election ballots

With the Chuuk General Election less than two weeks, away on March 3, Chuuk citizens and government officials are divided about the decision to include the vote for independence from the Federated States of Micronesia on the election ballot.

Originally a United Nations Trust Territory, the FSM officially adopted its own constitution in 1979. Seven years later, it entered into an agreement with the United States, officially becoming a sovereign government consisting of four states — Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae — under a Compact of Free Association.

Under the compact, the United States provides financial assistance and uninhibited travel for FSM citizens to the U.S.

In return, the FSM provides the United States with exclusive access to its land and waterways for strategic purposes.

The compact expires in 2023, and lawmakers are trying to come up with solutions to sustain the FSM after its ties with the U.S. are broken.

For Chuuk, part of the solution was the establishment of the Chuuk Political Status Commission, whose goal is to secede from the FSM then renegotiate a separate Compact of Free Association with the United States — basically cutting out the FSM as the middleman.

The commission, established in May 2011 by the Chuuk State Legislature, was formed through Public Law 11-18, which assigned the group to “review and recommend possible political status suitable for long term financial survival” of Chuuk State after the economic provisions under the Compact of Free Association expire.

The commission started holding public hearings, beginning the middle of last year, to introduce political status options, but it specifically recommends independence as the preferred political status at these hearings, said Sabino Asor, attorney general for Chuuk, who is also on the commission as the chairman for its public education efforts.

The commission visited all but four of the 40 islands that compose Chuuk State, Asor said. The commission also traveled overseas to the United States, Hawaii and Guam to areas that hold large Chuukese communities.

He added that the commission wasn’t able to visit the four islands in Chuuk because the boat they were using had engine troubles.

He said he and two other commissioners, Karson Enet and Johnny Meippen, held two public forums in Guam earlier this month, at the Dededo Senior Citizens Center near the Dededo Mayor’s Office.

Around as many as 80 people showed up to the forums each night, he said.

According to the 2010 Guam Census, the Chuukese population is the fastest growing on the island. The number has grown 80 percent, from 6,229 in 2000, to 11,230 in 2010.

Asor said the commission sent out a notice about the forums through the associations on island and was surprised at the low number of attendees, considering the large migrant population here.

“We have a problem with attendance here. We have people taking off work late. The family takes dinner or something, and by the time they get here, it’s already the middle of the forum,” he said.

At the forums, he said, members of the commission presented each of the political status options, but emphasized independence as the best option.

“The commission’s approach was to present independence based on its own internal evaluation,” Asor said. “We go out to the public and we say, ‘Compared to these other choices, we’re presenting independence.’”

He said the push toward independence would only act as a segue toward eventually pursuing a compact between Chuuk and the U.S.

Over the next eight years, he said, Chuuk will be looking at possible discussions with the United States and FSM to separate itself.

“We’re trying to transfer our existing rights with the existing FSM compact into a Chuuk compact,” he said.

He said under the current system, there is a lot of filtering of assistance that comes from the national government, and that some revenue is not shared at all.

Under the constitution, Asor said all foreign assistance that comes in must be divided equally between the states.

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