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Nauru candidates claim victory

Tuesday 14 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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Back down on fee hike ‘a win for democracy’

NAURU – Candidates in Nauru’s upcoming general election have claimed victory after the government seemingly backed down on its proposed huge increase to candidate registration fees.

Instead of the planned rise from A$100 to $2000, the government told parliament it would be changed to $500.

Corey Menke, one of 18 candidates who launched a legal challenge to the move, welcomed it as a win for democracy.

He said prospective new candidates were now more confident of challenging the government in next month’s election.

“I’m quite elated to say that all of us are confident,” he told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat.

“The way the Government are working, at the last parliament sitting, the things they were saying in there, that’s really boosted our morale,” said Menke, who used to work for Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield), the Australian company that operates the regional immigration pro-cessing centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

Menke said he lost his job at Broadspectrum on a Nauruan government directive during the legal challenge against increasing nomination fees.

“The thing is, since I spoke out on the media and was involved in that court case, they decided to terminate my contract,” he said.

“It’s not Broadspectrum that decided that, it was a directive from the government, so they the company had no choice but to send me a termina-tion letter.”

Now the fees legal challenge is over, Menke said he was unsure if he would get his job back.

“At the moment there’s nothing, I haven’t heard from Broadspectrum,” he said.

He said he would discuss the matter with his lawyer, but wanted to focus on the election campaign for now.

“The government thinks my dismissal will damage my credibility, but the incident has boosted it through my constituency because of what the government has done, which is unfair,” he said.

Over the weekend, the Speaker of Parliament, Ludwig Scotty, issued a writ to the electoral commissioner, dissolving parliament and calling for general elections to be held on July 9.

The government said candidates may be nominated from this Sunday, June 19, until 5.00pm on Saturday, June 25.

Earlier this year, two former Nauruan presidents accused the government of making moves to “rig” the elections and called for international ob-servers to arrive early and intervene.

Marcus Stephen and Sprent Dabwido, asked the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Commonwealth Secretariat for assistance “addressing criti-cal governance issues” in the island nation.

“The situation in Nauru cannot be approached as simply a difference of opinion between political groupings,” Dabwido and Stephen wrote.

“Facts demonstrate that the Baron Waqa government has already taken actions that unfairly alter the course of election preparations, including to introduce unfair barriers for potential candidates from standing.

“The Waqa government is contemplating further actions which would directly influence the outcome of the election in order to ensure they re-tain power. It is our view that, even at this early stage, this year’s parliamentary general elections in Nauru cannot be determined to be free and fair.”

The letter listed grievances and accusations, including the suspension of opposition members from parliament, visa cancellations and deporta-tions, allegations of misappropriated funds and travel allowances, and crackdowns on protests, press access and social media.

The opposition MPs also labelled two recent changes to legislation as government attempts to build a “massive deterrent” to alternative candi-dates.

One required any new candidate who worked in the public service to resign three months before polling day and a second increased the candi-date nomination fee from $100 to $2,000.

Dabwido and Batsiua are among a number of opposition MPs who have been suspended from parliament since mid-2014, accused at the time of high treason for speaking to international media. The two were also charged over a protest outside parliament last year over alleged government corruption.

- ABC/PNC