Vanuatu president pardons three former PMs

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Three former Prime Ministers have been pardoned by Vanuatu President, Pastor Obed Moses Tallis.

They are Rialuth Serge Vohor, Joe Natuman and Charlot Salwai.

The State Office confirmed to Daily Post that President Tallis signed the instrument of pardoning on 31 August 2021. The Pardon of Conviction Order was published in the official gazette Thursday.

Vohor who is the President of the Union of Moderate Parties first became Prime Minister in 1998. He lost his seat in 2014, following his imprisonment with other 13 Members of Parliament after the court found them guilty of bribery and corruption.

The court determined they were receiving VT1 million(US$8,987)in their respective bank accounts from then Prime Minister, Moana Carcasses Kalosil.

Vohor was subsequently banned from occupying public office for 10 years under the Leadership Code, which also means that he cannot contest in any election.

Natuman who was Prime Minister between 2014 to 2015, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 2015 and lost his seat in the parliament. He got a 2-year suspended sentence which ended in 2020. As a result of the court judgment, Natuman also lost his position as president of Vanua’aku Party (VP). The VP congress then elected current Prime Minister, Bob Loughman to replace him.

Salwai’s seat was declared vacant last year after the court found him guilty of perjury. His sentencing was suspended for two years and will end next year. However, the pardoning means the trio can now hold public office and contest in any elections – they are potential candidates for by-elections.

The pardons come as the current prime minister, Vanua’aku Pati leader Bob Loughman, and most MPs in his government are embroiled in a Supreme Court trial which could determine whether they lose their parliamentary seats.

Loughman and 18 other MPs had their parliamentary seats declared vacant in June by the former Speaker of Parliament, Gracia Shadrak, after they had boycotted three sitting days.

A government appeal against the process used by the former Speaker to declare their seats vacant was unsuccessful.

The separate matter of whether Loughman and his MP colleagues were absent from three consecutive sittings is now before the Supreme Court where the trial began this month.

A decision is expected to be handed down by the court next Monday, with the government likely to appeal if it loses.

If the court decision upholds the declaration that Loughman and his cohorts’ seats were vacated, 19 by-elections would be required to fill the seats.

It could be the first opportunity before Vanuatu’s scheduled 2024 general election for the pardoned former prime ministers to re-enter parliament.

Speaking from his home in Tanna, where one of the by-elections could take place, Natuman kept his cards close to his chest.

When his suspended sentence ended in March last year, he tried to run for the general election, but the Electoral Commission refused to accept his name as a candidate.

Natuman said he was grateful for the president’s decision, and hasn’t ruled out standing again, indicating that he had unfinished business as an MP, including being in a position to eventually hand over to a suitable younger local leader.

“It’s up to my people, if they want me to contest the election in 2024 or if there are any by-elections from now onwards,” he explained.

“It’s up to the constituency, as well as my political party (Vanua’aku Pati). I don’t decide myself,” he said.

SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST/RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS