NORTH Malaita Member of Parliament (MP) Senley Levi Filualea has retained his seat following the dismissal of the petition lodged against him, Friday.
This was after Judge Terrence Higgins found no evidence against Filualea on allegations of denial into counting area and bribery.
Former MP Jimmy Lusibaea lodged the petition after losing his seat to Filualea in last year’s National General Election.
Filualea won the election with 2,968 votes followed by Lusibaea with 2475 votes.
Higgins in his ruling said the first ground was that “the counting agents were wrongly denied their statutory right to directly observe counting of ballot papers contrary to section 68 (4) and 102 of the Election Act 2018 (as amended)”.
He said section 68 (4) of the Election Act provides: “the function of a counting agent is to observe the counting of votes in the candidate’s constituency”
“Neither this provision nor s102 mandates that the counting agent actually sees each vote cast and counted,” Higgins said.
He said it implicated that the agent be afforded a reasonable opportunity to carry out his or her function.
Higgins added that the returning officer also has a duty to ensure that no agent is able to touch or interfere with the count or any voting paper.
“Two meters would be the minimum distance to keep agents away from a ballot paper.
“Four meters does not seem unreasonable.”
“In the absence of some other matter, it is noteworthy that no complaints appear to be recorded concerning these alleged difficulties,” he added.
He said s112 of the Act has the effect that even it was proved that the Returning Officer had been over-zealous in keeping agents away from the ballot papers, it is not possible to infer that the distance measures, if they occurred with the result alleged, affected the result of the election.
Higgins said in the absence of any evidence proposed to be tendered to enable such an inference, and none is relied upon, this ground has no prospect of success and must be dismissed.
The election bribery relates to offences on which a person LW was offered a ticket to Auki on MV Fair Lady and the next day on 2 April 2019, was offered $100 to buy cigarettes accompanied by an instruction to vote for Filualea.
This alleged conduct was said to be engaged by AK, an agent for Filualea.
Higgins said the allegations of bribery in this case are supported by the evidence of LW and he asserts that one AK gave him a ticket to return to Auki to vote.
“He urged him to vote for the donor of the ticket but did not say who that was.
“No doubt because of a later incident next day he took that to refer to the first Respondent (Filualea).
“In my view, even accepting this evidence it does not enable an adverse inference to be drawn against the first respondent (Filualea),” Higgins said.
He said that is for two reasons, first, it is not impermissible to pay a voter’s expense to attend to vote, thus the payment for the ticket was not a bribe.
“Secondly, there is no evidence that the first Respondent in a way knew of or authorized this transaction.”
In relation to the second allegation, Higgins said if proved, that would be a classic situation of bribery but, even if so, there is no available inference that can be drawn with the requisite degree of certainty that Filualea knew of or authorized this payment, particularly as it arose, apparently, during the voyage.
Higgins said it follows that despite the eloquent and persuasive submissions from the petitioner’s lawyer, he must dismissed this petition.
Filualea was represented by Wilson Rano of Rano and Company while John Taupongi of Messrs Taupongi J.S. Law represented Lusibaea.