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Former PM Barak Sope is challenging his election loss

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, April 16, 2009) – All four Efate Rural MPs were present in the Supreme Court yesterday to listen to the proceedings of failed MPP candidate, Barak Sope’s petition against the Efate Constituency.

The MPs were Roro Sambo (NUP of Mele), Alfred Carlot of Erakor (VRP), Joshua Kalsakau (VLP) and Bakoa Kaltongga (VP Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ifira).

While the hearing started before yesterday with a reported series of witnesses, Sope’s witness from Siviri told the court how he stood a mere three meters away to see an act of ‘giving’ take place in the village (suspiciously to buy votes away from Sope). Principal Electoral Officer Martin Tete was summoned to answer questions regarding how the voting was carried out as reported in the Electoral Roll.

The Petitioner’s lawyer, Robert Sugden was well known for handling difficult cases. In the present case, he was noticed to be literally smiling, at least once as he turned in the direction of his client while cross-examining witness Tete.

He wanted to know why voters were reported turned away from specific polling stations with their voting cards and why certain names were crossed from the list of voters without any explanation.

Tete replied voters were turned away with their cards if they were not registered to vote in the polling station where they were at. When Justice Dawson pressed Tete for a "yes or no" answer if he personally knew why the names were crossed off the electoral roll, he answered in the negative.

MP Alfred Carlot also appeared at the hearing. He was not really cross-examined.

The next MP to appear was Bakoa Kalgongga. He confirmed purchasing cement for one SDA Church at Manples and two churches in Mele and ten Digicel mobile phones for Paunangisu in North Efate and Malaliu in Nguna. He denied handing out cash.

He explained, "Yes I purchased 3 tons of cement for the churches because they asked me to help them".

As for the mobile phones he said they were given to each chairman of each of each of his sub committees for communication purposes for practical reasons.

Asked how much money he spent during the political campaign, he did not give a figure but pointed out that money was a necessity in any preparation.

He chartered a chopper for 25,000 vatu [US$231] or half an hour and said Efate Constituency was a large area and he needed to travel to his voters.

He denied handing out any cash to the people.

Witness Vuna on the other hand contradicted the MP by saying they distributed 6 tons of cement and had four more coming. He also said they handed over cash to a community to thank them for their catering.

The hearing continues today.

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