New Plymouth MP Harry Duynhoven may have caused his seat in Parliament to become vacant due to his application to restore his Dutch citizenship.
The NZ Herald reports how the Privileges Committee is seeking legal advice on whether Duynhoven’s actions breached Section 55(1) of the Electoral Act 1993, specifically Paragraph (c) which states “If he or she does or concurs in or adopts any act whereby he or she may become a subject or citizen of any foreign State or Power, or entitled to the rights, privileges, or immunities of a subject or citizen of any foreign State or Power”
The Speaker has the responsibility under Section 129(1) to determine if a seat is vacant and I suspect that he will very shortly have to conclude Duynhoven’s seat is vacant. In fact one can argue he should have done so some time ago.
There has been some talk about retrospective legislative to stop the vacancy and a by-election, arguing that this is an obscure 150 year old clause. However it is not. The Electoral Act was totally reviewed and passed in 1993 – after Duynhoven first entered Parliament and most MPs know the sections on what causes a vacancy very well.
There is some talk of the Government forcing through Parliament under urgency, legislation to allow Duynhoven to retain his seat. This would be an incredibly bad thing to do, for many reasons.
1) Retrospective legislation is bad at the best of times, but retrospective legislation passed by Parliament for the sole purpose of benefiting a current MP reeks of third world status.
2) Australia has had the same issue with Jackie Kelly and they had a by-election rather than gerrymander the law.
3) While some may regard a by-election as a waste of time, with the result in no doubt, it is the height of arrogance for a Parliament to assume to know how the people will vote in any particular situation, and legislate to avoid an election.
So as much as I personally would rather not have a by-election in New Plymouth, I think Parliament has no choice but to let the law take its course. MPs should not be above the law, and itwould be manifestly unfair for an MP to escape the consequences of his own actions just because he has mates who can change the law