Apr 21, 2018 Last Updated 5:28 AM, Apr 19, 2018

Former PM seeks re-election

PROTESTS in Funafuti, capital of Tuvalu, against Tuvalu’s newly appointed Chief Justice saw the deferment to March of a bi-election in the island’s parliament. Strongly tipped to win his Vaitupu seat again is Apisai Ielemia, although the government of Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has put up an opponent. A member of the opposition and being a former Prime Minister himself, Hon Ielemia lost his seat in a controversial ruling of Chief Justice Charles Sweeney in October last year. Sweeney, an Australian, was appointed by the Tuvalu Governor General at the beginning of 2016 to replace Sir Gordon Ward, who has been unable to travel to Tuvalu through Fiji due to a travel ban the Fiji regime had imposed against him.

He was President of Fiji’s Court of Appeal until his resignation on December 2006 following the military coup that brought to power the then Fiji military commander Frank Bainimarama. Last November’s peaceful protests by about 80 people of mostly men but with some women, young people and children was the second in recent months, all aimed at CJ Sweeney. Protestors carried banners and placards telling the Australian jurist he was no longer welcome to set foot again on Funafuti. Judge Sweeney was reportedly in Australia at the time.

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Australia the US ally

Turnbull plays his Trump card

IN his first statement congratulating Donald Trump on his victory in the US Presidential Election, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke glowingly of the strength of America’s alliance with Australia. “Americans understand that they have no stronger ally, no better friend, than Australia,” Turnbull said. “We have no stronger relationship; whether it is on the battlefield or in commerce, than we have with the United States. They are a great and powerful nation; they are a great and powerful friend. And our relationship with the United States is built on millions of Australians and Americans who have been working together, fighting together, serving together, for over a century.”

Implicit in Turnbull’s laudatory message was an appeal for the US not to abandon Australia when Presidentelect Trump takes over next month, nor indulge in pursuits that would put Australia in the difficult position of choosing between its most valuable economic partner in China and its prized protector, America. It was a petition borne out of the uncertainty that Trump generated in the lead-up to his election as he articulated his position on a limited number of foreign policy issues.

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WITH New Caledonia scheduled to hold a referendum on self-determination in late 2018, there is a looming crisis over who will be eligible to vote. More than 25,000 Kanaks are not properly registered on the French electoral roll, while the status of thousands more French voters is under challenge. If this problem is not resolved quickly by the French authorities, thousands of indigenous people may be unable to participate in the vote on the country’s political future. Since the signing of the Noumea Accord in May 1998, there has been a series of complex and legalistic debates over who is eligible to vote for local political institutions, as well as the proposed referendum on self-determination.

New Caledonia has three different electoral rolls. The general roll covers all French nationals of voting age, who can vote for French political institutions such as the National Assembly and Senate in Paris. Another electoral roll is used for New Caledonia’s local political institutions. It defines voting rights for the three provincial assemblies and national Congress, and is restricted to New Caledonian citizens rather than all French nationals. Yet another list is being developed for the referendum on selfdetermination, which is the culmination of the 20-year long transition towards decolonisation created by the Noumea Accord.

Because of colonial settlement and ongoing migration, the Kanak people are a minority in their own country (a similar problem facing the Chamorro people in Guam or the Melanesian population of Indonesian-controlled West Papua). But the Noumea Accord, which ended the armed conflict of the 1980s, was based on a compromise that the future of New Caledonia should be determined by all long-term residents of the French Pacific dependency, not just the indigenous, colonised people.

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RECENT events in Fiji point to a widening gulf that has developed between Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s Fiji First Party- led government and the country’s Opposition political parties. Six prominent public figures, three of them leaders of Fiji’s three largest Opposition political parties were detained by police for 24-hours over a weekend in Suva in early September with varying explanations for the detentions.

By way of official government comment on the detentions, Prime Minister Bainimarama told the nation that the six men had been detained for attending a public meeting without the proper permit as required by Fiji’s Public Order Act. Police, on the other hand, explained that the detentions were to enable them to clarify whether some of the statements made at the public meeting "could affect the safety and security of all Fijians.

The detainees, Mr Sitiveni Rabuka - leader of the major Opposition political party, the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), Dr Biman Prasad – parliamentary leader of the National Federation Party (NFP), Mr Mahendra Chaudhary – leader of the Fiji Labour Party (FLP), former academic and one time Deputy Prime Minister - Dr Tupeni Baba, and prominent trade unionist – Mr Attar Singh, were panelists at a meeting to discuss Fiji’s Constitution.

The sixth detainee was Mr Jone Dakuvula, chair of the non-governmental oganisation - Pacific Dialogue - which organised the meeting coinciding with Fiji’s celebration of its new public holiday - Constitution Day. Prime Minister Bainimarama and Fiji’s Attorney-General, Mr Aiyaz SayedKhaiyum had also been formally invited to attend the Pacific Dialogue forum on Fiji’s Constitution but, according to Dakuvula, had both declined.

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Judge questions handling of case by PM and his deputy

A LANDMARK court case last May in Tuvalu which saw the jailing of a former prime minister who is a sitting opposition MP has ended abruptly when the island’s high court declared the conviction as “manifestly unsafe,” quashed the 12 month jail term and ordered no further court trials. In so doing, stand in Judge Norman Franzi of Melbourne, Australia expressed grave concerns at the behaviour of the current Prime Minister of Tuvalu Enele Sopoaga, and his deputy Maatia Toafa, also a former prime minister in the investigations of the case.

“I note in passing that two of Tuvalu’s Prime Ministers took part in the preparation or investigation carried out for this case,” said Judge Franzi. “I consider that contrary to the separate of powers in the Westminster System of Government. There is material in the appeal book volume 3 page 711 that indicated that [then] Prime Minster Maatia Toafa had coerced an email response from John Chen [a Taiwanese businessman].

“The email was tendered as an exhibit not as to the truth of its contents. In the Senior Magistrate’s judgement the email was relied on as to the truth of its contents. Prime Minster Sopoaga in appeal book volume 1 at page 121 gave evidence recorded in the Senior Magistrate’s notes that “I’m accountable to Tuvalu. I have every obligation to seek this information.”

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