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New Nauru election law draws criticism

Thursday 4 February 2016 | Published in Regional

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YAREN – A Nauru opposition MP says a new law that requires public servants intending to stand for parliament to quit their jobs three months before the election is designed to eliminate political rivals.

The bill was passed during a sitting of parliament last week, with the government justifying it by saying public servants who continued to work could abuse their position while campaigning.

But a former president, Sprent Dabwido, who has been suspended from parliament since the middle of last year, says three months is too long for many people to go without an income.

The public service is Nauru’s largest employer, and Dabwido told Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific the new rule is designed to put many people off contesting the election, which is due some time this year.

“The new election law they passed in parliament last week is for anybody wishing to put their name up to be a member of parliament at the next election, they should resign from their work, three months ahead of the election.

“I think basically it is a deterrent to any person wishing to become a member of parliament so it’s probably questionable whether it’s in line with our constitution.

“I believe it will prevent a lot of people wanting to put their name up. For example, you know, after serving in their office for let’s say 20, 30 years, they’re going to risk all that plus no salary for three months.

“The big question mark is, if they don’t win will they get their job back?

“So it’s a big deterrent to anybody wishing to put their name up and I think it’s unconstitutional we’re going to have to look at that and get a legal opinion on it.”

Laws ruling that public servants must resign if they’re running for parliament exist in other countries around the world.

The Nauru government seems to be justifying its move by saying the public servants could possibly abuse their position or government resources for their campaigns.

Dabwido says: “There is a point to that but there is much better ways of doing it, you can say you can resign one month ahead and you can say that you can still maintain your salary during this one month so you can survive.

“But you know, just public servant, you know you could be a bus driver, how’s he going to abuse his driving the bus?

He says the main concern is the timeframe, that three months is too long.

“Three months, that’s six pay cheques. Iif you have a wife and kids, how can you go on for three months without salary. Any normal person would find it very hard to survive. This kind of law is made especially just for the government themselves.”

Calls to the Nauru government have so far gone unanswered.

- Dateline Pacific