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Suspension of 22 Vanuatu MPs unconstitutional: Court
02:04 am GMT+12, 22/02/2021, Vanuatu

The decision to suspend the entire opposition bloc for two sittings of Parliament in the First Ordinary Session of Vanuatu Parliament in 2020, was declared unconstitutional in an Appeal Court ruling last week.
 
A total of 29 Members of Parliament voted for the motion to suspend the 22 Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) after the opposition bloc boycotted the first sitting in June last year.
 
The Opposition MPs said their constitutional rights were breached. But the Supreme Court ruled that their suspension was legal. The Opposition bloc further appealed the Supreme Court decision and the appeal was allowed.
 
“We declare that in passing Motion 6 (later Motion 1) and thereby suspending the whole of the Opposition for 2 sitting days of the Parliament of the Republic of Vanuatu breached Articles 1, 2 and 4 of the Constitution," Chief Justice Lunabek said on behalf of the jury.
 
“At the same time, the appellants' guaranteed constitutional rights under Articles 5 (d), (g), (k) and 27 (1) of the Constitution were also breached."
 
Speaking with media after the court decision, Leader of Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu said they are satisfied with the ruling.
 
“We appealed the Supreme Court decision simply because it would set, we believe, a really bad precedent if a simple majority of MPs could suspend an entire Opposition as they wanted for no reason," the Opposition Leader said.
 
He added the Opposition would not be expecting any remedy. “We just wanted to make sure that the right precedent would be set for the future. We now know that cannot happen again and we are very happy about it."
 
Meanwhile, the Vanuatu Appeal Court has upheld the Supreme Court decision of acquitting charges of bribery and corruption contrary to the Penal Code and the Leadership Code involving former Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, Member of Parliament (MP) for Luganville Matai Seremaiah and former MPs Jerome Ludvaune and Tomker Netvunei.
 
The Appeal Court dismissed the decision appealed by the Prosecution.
 
The jury were satisfied with Justice Gustaaf Andrée Wiltens’ decision when he applied the correct test to the “no case to answer” decision.
 
“We are quite satisfied he was correct in concluding that the prosecution had failed to lead any direct or circumstantial evidence to show the actions were done corruptly,” Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek said in their decision.
 
He continued, “There is nothing in relation to the circumstantial evidence to suggest that the non-corrupt motive of the stability of government was not rationally available to decider of fact.”
 
In their discussions, the jury stated that, evidence clearly shows that ‘reshuffles’ are a feature of parliamentary democracy in Vanuatu. “Indeed, a Court can take judicial notice that such occurs in almost all parliamentary democracies, especially those whose systems often lead to coalition governments.
 
“It is not open to suggest that once a motion of no confidence was signed by the requisite number of members, a Prime Minister would simply sit back and allow the motion to proceed. Any Prime Minister is going to attempt to defeat the motion, and in our view, the evidence clearly showed that what occurred here was political maneuvering.
 
“In it, the Prime Minister was successful, and the stability of the Vanuatu Government was maintained. It is important to note that it cannot be seriously suggested that once members have signed a motion of con confidence, they are unable to change their mind and must vote in accordance with the motion.
 
“Members are at perfect liberty to change their mind, to withdraw their support for the motion, or even to vote against it when it came before the Parliament,” Lunabek said.

SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST/PACNEWS


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