The Supreme Court decision declaring Malekula Member of Parliament (MP) Asang Sanick’s seat void yesterday has brought into question the role of the Vanuatu Electoral Commission (VEC) and Vanuatu Electoral Office (VEO) in screening candidates for elections.
The court found that Mr. Sanick was not qualified to stand in the election for Malekula according to section 61(2) of the Representation of the People Act [CAP 146], and that the Electoral Commission failed to pick up on his criminal conviction and sentence.
“It was accordingly a failure in the part of the Electoral Commission not to pick up on the details of Mr. Sanick’s criminal conviction and sentence particularly, as the Commission has an eligibility assessment and screening responsibility arising in particular by section 26 of the Act that provides it with the power to declare a candidature invalid,” the presiding judge stated.
The judge noted that the VEC received a report from the Commissioner of Police on Mr. Sanick’s criminal conviction, but ignored the advice and declared him eligible to contest the election.
The judge also revealed that Mr. Sanick and his lawyer sought advice from the Deputy Electoral Officer regarding his criminal conviction and sentence, and were advised to contest the election as his suspended sentence was less than two years. The question of his eligibility was deemed to be vested in the VEC and not the VEO.
On October 27, 2022, the Vanuatu Daily Post had published a front page article titled, “Malekula MP-elect Contested Snap Election Despite Suspended Sentence,” after obtaining confirmation from the Director of Vanuatu Correctional Services, Johnny Marango, that Mr. Sanick is still serving a suspended sentence.
Sanick was sentenced on the 11th of August 2021, after he pleaded guilty to two charges of domestic violence (Counts 1 and 2) under the Family Protection Act, and one charge of breaching the Leadership Code Act [CAP 240] by failing to comply with and observe the law (Count 3).
He was also the third Deputy Speaker of Parliament at that time and received a suspended sentence for two years, which should lapse on August 11, 2023.
The judge’s verdict yesterday resulted in a vacancy in the polling district of Malekula, which the VEC will now address through a by-election for that vacant seat.
According to the judge, “This is not a case where the next high polling candidate should be declared elected to fill that vacant seat given the tight voting numbers.” This highlights the importance of properly vetting candidates’ qualifications and criminal records before allowing them to run for public office.
The two Election Petitioners, Mr. Fabian Vinbel and Mr. Gregoire Nimbtik, have welcomed the decision and called on Malekula voters to prepare for the by-election.
The Supreme Court decision serves as a reminder to the VEC and the VEO to be more diligent in their screening of candidates for elections, particularly regarding criminal convictions and sentences. Failure to do so could result in a voided election and a by-election, as in the case of Mr. Sanick.
SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST