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.

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

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,” 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.”

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.

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

Ielemia tried to lead a protest march through Funafuti last week calling for  Sweeney to resign over his decision, but that was stopped by an order signed by Sopoaga. SOURCE: RNZI/PACNEWS [/restrict]