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Tue, May 23, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Grassroots president mulls legacy

Palau's President Kuniwo Nakamura, in Taipei for the presidential inauguration, talked with `Taipei Times' staff reporter Catherine Sung about his presidency, the similarities in background between him and Chen Shui-bian and the opening of Palau's new Taipei embassy

Kunino Nakamura, the outgoing president of Palau, talks about his future plans and relations with Taiwan.


Taipei Times: After two terms in office, you will be stepping down in November, what will your legacy be?

President Kuniwo Nakamura: This will be my 31st year in government.I started working after college for the government and then the legislative body for close to 20 years, then one term as vice president and two terms as president.

When I first began my presidency in 1993, Palau was not yet independent. But after a year and half, I was able to bring my country to independence on October 1, 1994. I don't know what legacy I will leave, but I know I am a president of the grassroots. I've always been very careful and looked after the interests of the grassroots -- not for political, but practical reasons. I always believed that in any society, the grassroots need the most help.

TT: Why do you describe yourself as a president of the grassroots?

KN: I've always been grassroots myself. My father is Japanese who came to Palau after the end of WWI. I come from a very big family, there were eight of us and conditions after WWII were different than what you experience today.

Society is like a pyramid [in underdeveloped countries], the lower you go, the more people you find. A lot of people in many societies [now] fall into this category. Palau was, and up to now is still, a pyramid.

It is not easy to have someone of Japanese descent be president. I think I've been elected twice as president because of what I do and not what I am. So, what legacy? I think the people will look at me as a simple politician and a simple president of a small country who did his best.

TT: From how you described yourself as a grassroots president , it seems you have a lot of similarities with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

KN: He is the man of the hour. I met him but have not had a chance to get to know him. I've been doing a lot of reading about him, he seems to have gone through a lot of interesting experiences also. I think he looks to be very full of energy ... he is right for this time and this period in Taiwan's history.

TT: What do you hope the next president of Palau will do for the country and what are the people's expectations?

KN: I am going to hang up my gloves because the Constitution sets a two-term limit. But this does not mean I don't have the fire inside me to serve my people again. The fire is still burning (laughs).

To use the coconut tree as an example, the only reason why they grow taller is because the old leaves fall and I may be one of the old leaves that must fall to the ground so the trunk can grow taller.

So far, four presidential hopefuls have announced their candidacy. Each one of them has their own unique qualities. I have not announced support for anybody [note: there are no political parties in Palau, endorsements are made on a personal basis] but I work very well with my current vice president ... he is very experienced.

Palau is a very stable society. We have a very good system of government in place that co-exists very well with our traditional system of government.

I don't think we will get into a situation like the one Fiji is in, we have a check-and-balance system.

TT: One of the concerns among the Palauan people is the US$500 million in aid under the Free Compact of Association is due to run out in 2009. How will the government deal with this problem?

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