Vanuatu Speaker pardons himself while Lonsdale away
The convicted speaker of Vanuatu's Parliament has pardoned himself and 13 other convicted MPs after stepping in to act as President while the country's head of state was abroad.
The convicted speaker of Vanuatu's parliament has pardoned himself and 13 other convicted MPs after stepping in to act as President while the country's head of state was abroad.
The move has further shaken the country after a judge found the MPs guilty of bribery on Friday.
Sally Round reports.
The speaker, Marcellino Pipite, issued a presidential pardon in his capacity as acting head of state while the president, Baldwin Lonsdale, was in Samoa on Saturday. Mr Pipite said he had to sign the pardon for the sake of stability and to avoid the civil unrest seen in other parts of the region. He said he consulted five lawyers before making the decision.
MARCELLINO PIPITE: If anyone in this region questions me, just pick up the pictures of people in Honiara, in Solomons, in Papua New Guinea, in Bougainville and don't duplicate this in Vanuatu.
On Friday, police were marshaled and business and schools closed as people awaited the verdict in the bribery case which has gripped the country and could have seen nearly a third of the legislature in jail for up to ten years. An anti-corruption campaigner Jenny Ligo says in the end all was calm and it was not on for the Speaker to take advantage of the president's absence and issue a pardon.
JENNY LIGO: There was no tension like on the actual day when the court handed down the judgement, there was no reaction of riots. Everybody respects law and order. Everybody was aware that there was a statement that everybody will stay calm and let the courts do their work.
Ms Ligo says her group Vanuatu Women against Crime and Corruption is planning a march to protest against Mr Pipite's move.
JENNY LIGO: This is really totally a disgrace to the whole nation and we want to appeal to every citizen of Vanuatu to see that this is wrong. We have to uphold the law. Even though we have a personal relationship with some of these MPs but at the end of the day what they did is wrong.
The Supreme Court convicted Mr Pipite and 13 other MPs including the deputy prime minister Moana Carcasses of corruption. They were found to have accepted bribes offered by Mr Carcasses, who was then opposition leader, to lure support for changing the government. The main opposition Vanua'aku Pati says it is consulting lawyers over the legality of the move. Earlier one of the members of the opposition, Ralph Regenvanu, called for all the convicted MPs to go as the government had become hopelessly compromised. He said all sides needed to come together to ensure the stability of the country. He said the Prime Minister Sato Kilman had a big decision to make.
RALPH REGENVANU: That decision can either be that he resigns, or he tries to find a way to bring some of the opposition into his government, or we all sit down together and then decide what's the best government that we can have that is going to take the government through to the next by-elections for all these seats, or whether we need to dissolve parliament and just have fresh elections because the cost of by-elections for 15 seats is probably going to be close to the cost of a general election.
The pardon did not include the Minister of Finance, Willie Jimmy, who was earlier convicted on two bribery charges after pleading guilty.
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