17 Oct 2016

Tuvalu MP claims nepotism after exclusion

11:36 am on 17 October 2016

A former prime minister of Tuvalu says he still considers himself a Member of Parliament, despite the Chief Justice declaring his seat vacant.

Apisai Ielemia was convicted of corruption in June, but on appeal, a stand-in judge quashed the conviction and sentence.

But when he tried to return to parliament last month, the speaker tried to eject him because of his jail time, acting on a motion passed by the majority government.

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Apisai Ielemia still believes he is an MP Photo: AFP

The attorney general sought clarification and in a surprise announcement, the Chief Justice Charles Sweeney declared Mr Ielemia's seat vacant, despite him no longer holding a conviction.

Apisai Ielemia said he is appealing against this ruling and still considers himself to be an MP.

"Because the conviction and sentence had been stayed before the parliament took place, plus the fact that in our laws the vacation of a seat can occur if a member of parliament is sentenced to imprisonment exceeding 12 months," Mr Ielemia said.

"So even before the stay I was still entitled to be an MP because my sentence was 12 months.

"I am still an MP."

Mr Ielemia said he will go to parliament when it next sits in December, but he expects there to be another motion to try and exclude him.

He said the Chief Justice is too involved with the prime minister and needs to go.

Mr Sweeney is the former personal lawyer of the current prime minister, Enele Sopoaga, who chose him to be the Chief Justice.

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Photo: 123 RF

Mr Ielemia tried to lead a protest march through Funafuti last week calling for Mr Sweeney to resign over his decision, but that was stopped by an order signed by Mr Sopoaga.

He said they are calling on the Governor General to step in, and he hasn't ruled out further protests.

"I want him to go forever. We want a new man, somebody who will be neutral and who will be able to the right thing [and] follow the laws of Tuvalu," Mr Ielemia said.

"It just depends on what action the Governor General will take on our petition that was delivered to him."