By MARGARET WEVER
2009-09-26 02:57 AM
Most pre-election polls have given an edge to the main opposition Aruban People's Party, which has accused Prime Minister Nelson Oduber of mishandling the economy.
Eight political parties are competing for 21 seats in Parliament. The party that wins a majority or is able to piece together a coalition government will choose the prime minister of Aruba, an autonomous department of the Netherlands.
The governing People's Electoral Movement, which has held power since 2001, has pledged to diversify the island's economy, diminish debt, and tackle rising consumer costs amid the global economic recession.
Candidates with the People's Party, led by Mike Eman, have vowed to lower inflation on the import-reliant island where prices are already high because of the tourist economy. The party also pledges to eliminate an unpopular 3 percent cumulative tax on local businesses.
The governing party currently has 11 seats in the 21-seat legislature. The Aruban People's Party has eight and two smaller parties split the remainder.
In Oranjestad, the capital, drivers cruised the narrow streets with the yellow and green flags of the two main parties hanging outside their windows. Voters chatted amicably under the tropical sun. The atmosphere was festive and no disruptions were immediately reported.
Marylou Hermans, a 19-year-old student who hopes to become a social worker, said she back's Oduber's party because "you can see progress being made in the island with this government."
Nearby, Carlos Maduro, a casino dealer, complained that cronies of the People's Electoral Movement have been rewarded with jobs for years: "It's all about friends and family for this government." Maduro said.
There are 64,600 eligible voters on island. Election results are expected Saturday.