Former MP’s eligibility to contest not yet final

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By Gary Hatigeva

THE Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) is yet to determine if the former Member of Parliament for Temotu Vatud Freda Tuki, is eligible to contest in a by-election (if it is to be held) or the 2019 National General Elections.

In an earlier statement, Chief Electoral Officer, Mose Saitala said, his office was waiting for a written copy of Monday’s High Court verdict to determine the eligibility of the former.

The Commission was supposed to have met yesterday to understand if the High Court weighs its verdict on the Electoral Act 2018 or the previous Act.

According to Electoral officials, no decisions have been made yet and they are anticipating any outcome later today.

According to Saitala, understanding the verdict would help the Commission determine if Ms. Tuki is qualified to contest in the coming national general elections.

He pointed out that there is uncertainty on the penalties that will be applied, whether they will be based on the new act or the old act.

There are also questions surrounding the validity for the courts to have used the old Act to prosecute the former’s case, as it has already been replaced by the new Electoral Act 2018.

“The offence was actually prosecuted on what happened in 2014, because it is an offence under the old act, but the old act is already gone.”

Understandably, under the new Act, the former would have been disqualified to contest in the 2019 national general elections, but may not be the case under the old act.

Based on the old Electoral Act, the ousted MP may not be eligible to contest any by-election straight after the High Court’s ruling that resulted in her automatic removal, but can contest in the next national election.

Meanwhile, the Chief Electoral Officer added that at its meeting, the Commission would also decide if a by-election for Temotu VATUD was necessary when the next national general elections, are just within months away.

However, legal officials say any plans to hold a by-election would be unjustifiable and unnecessary, having only less than three months left before the 10th Parliament House is dissolved.

They also stressed that an early poll for the affected constituency to elect a representative in any by-election may not happen due to the fact that the government has never budgeted for it, meaning, unavailability of funds, but mostly, due to limitation.

They outlined that the authorities will have to fulfil a set of processes leading up to any election and the election period itself, whether it will be a national general election or a by-election.

“An election has number processes, and they include, the nomination period, the campaign period and the election period, with the first two requiring more time and could only be at the campaign period when parliament will be dissolved”.

They however warned that any intention to fast track the processes will be deemed illegal, as it will be in breach of the procedures in the Electoral Act and the National Constitution.

Despite nothing been revealed, the Commission according to officials, will have to come out with a decision within this week on the eligibility status of the former Vatud MP to contest and if a by-election should be held.

Tuki was ousted after High Court Judge Rex Foukona ruled in favour of petitioner and former Vatud MP Clay Forau in one of the last 2014 successful election petition cases.

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