Bills establishing primary election and amending order of succession for the Office of Governor of Koror State passed into law by way of override on Wednesday, this week. The two measures were approved in a voice vote, with 14 yes, 1 no and 2 absents.
The two bills were referred back by Governor Franco Gibbons on May 14 citing objections to certain sections within the two bills.
Under the measure establishing primary election for gubernatorial candidates, Governor Gibbons objected to the bill because it did not specify registration date for those who are 17 at the time of the primary but turn 18 on or before the date of Koror State General Election.
Governor Gibbons objected saying “The Constitution of Koror is clear. A Palauan citizen from Koror who is at least 18 years of age is eligible to vote in all elections of the State of Koror.” ..Under national law, “Every person who has reached the age of 18 years or who will have reached the age of 18 year on or before the date of the next election…may register to vote in the administrative district in which he resides”. He added, “It is clear that a person who is only 17 years old at the time of the primary election cannot vote in that primary election but a person who turns 18 on or before the date of the general election may vote in the general election (regardless of any lack of qualification for the primary election). Under national law and under the Koror State constitution, a 17 year old cannot legally vote in any election.”
He feared that this may create uncertainty with Palau Election Commission causing them to “override inconsistent or inadequate Koror State law” and “Koror State may lose the ability to control certain procedures relating to election.”
The bill passed by KSL into law is silent on the registration issue and merely states “All registered voters of Koror State who meet all other voting requirements shall be eligible to vote in the primary election.”
KSL Speaker Alan Marbou’s response to Governor Gibbons referral letter on May 4th stated, “the Legislature has determined that there is a potential constitutional question as to whether voters who will turn 18 between the primary and general election should be permitted to vote in the primary and that the Election Commission may in the future need flexibility from the law in order to craft solution that complies with shifting currents of constitutional jurisprudence.”
The measure amending the law of succession for the Office of Governor in event of temporary unavailability or absence, passed by Legislature override, had four major changes. One, it requires that Governor to appoint a “currently serving Department Head” that has been confirmed by the legislature to fill his role during his absence. It added that if Governor does not appoint a person to fulfill his duties, Speaker, Vice Speaker or Floor Leaders will assume the duties of the Office of Governor. Furthermore, if Governor is absent or unavailable for more than 10 days, the Speaker, Vice Speaker or Floor Leader takes over the duties of the Governor. Lastly the law allows citizen of Koror to sue the State for alleged absence, unavailability or permanent vacancy of Governor.
Gibbons objected to the Speaker or any member of the legislature taking on the duties of the Governor in his absence citing “separation of powers”. He also said 10 days is too short and should be extended to 30 days, that with current technology, a governor can still manage his duties with his Department heads while outside of Palau.
Koror State Legislature expressed that allowing “unelected department heads to fill the office of governor for months” is “unacceptable”. “Koror’s constitution provides that government power ultimately is derived from the consent of the people, and we must respect that principle in establishing rules for temporary governance.”
Issues concerning the line succession for the office of governor, especially for temporary absence or unavailability is not unique for Koror State or other states in Palau.
This amendment would be the third such amendment of the succession law for Koror State. The law that was just amend by override was introduced in 2010 by now Governor Franco Gibbons when he was a legislator. The law mandates governor to appoint a person to oversee his duties in his absence, if not, then within 5 days, Speaker will assume the duties of the governor.