Nauru elections in possible delay

By Robert Matau

May 2013

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Pacific Update
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Nauru’s parliament is again in the throes of uncertainty as moves within are preventing its dissolution, a legal pre-requisite to national elections as scheduled for this year.
The 18-seat institution has been wrought with political and legal difficulties over the past month as a number of sittings have been characterised by absent members of parliament, preventing constitutional pre-election processes to take place.

Last month, government members were absent from three sittings and government sources say this could continue until June 21, when the duration of the current parliament ends.
The last national election in the tiny nation—where the population is a little over 10,000—was held in 2010 and it was one preceded by a similar deadlock that had led to a state of emergency.
In a similar fashion, this year’s event is looking likely to end up in court, as President Sprent Dabwido is said to be considering legal action to force the Speaker to dissolve Parliament.
The view from the Opposition is that the Speaker was simply following the law and government members should mount a legal challenge if they had a problem with his decision.
Opposition MP Matthew Batsiua said under the constitution, a member could lose his or her seat if he or she is absent from parliament without informing the House.
Under Nauru’s Constitution, a member is deemed to have vacated his seat if he is absent without leave of Parliament on every day on which a meeting of Parliament is held during a period of two months.
On both occasions of their absence, Government members have written to the new Speaker Godfrey Thoma explaining the reasons for their absence.
Parliament had sat under new Speaker Thoma on April 30 but it was a brief session as 10 members were absent and the House therefore failed to have a quorum. That was the second consecutive parliament meeting that Speaker Thoma, has had to adjourn for not having the numbers.
Thoma, nominated by former President Marcus Stephen and supported by 10 votes, replaced Ludwig Scotty who resigned on April 18.
Unhappy over Scotty’s resignation, Government members stayed away from the afternoon session of parliament. Earlier in the month, Scotty had tried to dissolve parliament but he adjourned the meeting before any debate could be held, a decision that was against procedure.
It was challenged in court and the dissolution was declared null and void.
Thoma said when he was elected on April 25 as Speaker, he followed normal procedure by recessing the House to the following day.
He further explained that his role as Speaker is to ensure things move forward, including, when it becomes possible, to dissolve parliament and calling for a general election.
However, Speaker Thoma further clarified that in order for dissolution to go ahead, the President’s advice to dissolve the House must first be referred to members and members must be given the opportunity to debate it, which has not happened.
Thoma also suggested that those members who are insisting that dissolution should have taken effect on 25th April should consider resolving the matter in court.
“At its sitting on Friday, April 26, parliament commenced shortly after 2pm but sat only briefly as nine members did not attend and therefore the House did not have a quorum,” an official Government statement said.
“The Speaker read a letter from the nine stating the reason for their absence was their understanding that the life of the 20th parliament had expired the night before (midnight of Thursday, 25th April).
“The nine members cited the president’s advice read out in parliament on Thursday, 18th April, to dissolve parliament.
“However, since the advice has not been properly referred to the House nor have members had the opportunity to debate it, the dissolution cannot yet come into effect.”
The Speaker, according to the government statement, then expressed his disappointment over the absences.
“Thoma said the nine absent members were well aware that the Supreme Court has held ‘that the 7-day time period leading up to dissolution begins to run from the time the debate begins.
“As there has so far been no opportunity for debate, it is clear that parliament could not have been lawfully dissolved yesterday [Thursday, 25th April],” the statement read.
“In any case, Article 41(4) requires the Speaker to take action, at a specific point in time, to dissolve the House. Parliament does not dissolve automatically except when it reaches its full three-year term or when, following the successful motion of no confidence, parliament fails to elect a new President within 7 days.”
Thoma said it was unfortunate that after weeks of uncertainty and legal disputes over the dissolution, the nine members continued to disregard the supreme law of Nauru which is the constitution.
With the constitution stating that a general election is held two months after dissolution, Nauru at its current pace could be looking at holding an election in August or September.
That is unless Government MPs decide to return to parliament to debate the dissolution of parliament.


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