Political instability persists in Vanuatu ahead of leadership challenge

Vanuatu's parliament complex in Port Vila. Photo: BEN BOHANE

Explainer – There is no end in sight to the latest round of political instability in Vanuatu with lobbying expected to intensify over the weekend ahead of a leadership challenge in parliament next week.

As it stands, neither the government or the opposition have an absolute majority in the house.

An attempt by the opposition leader Bob Loughman to move a motion of no confidence against the leadership of prime minister Ishmael Kalsakau on Thursday was boycotted by the government forcing an adjournment due to a lack of a quorum.

Parliament will resume on Wednesday next week 16 August at 2pm local time.

The numbers

Vanuatu’s parliament has 52 seats. One seat is vacant and there is an MP currently overseas seeking medical treatment.

This means there are only 50 MPs in country able to vote on the motion-of-no-confidence.

On Thursday, the Loughman showed up to parliament with 25 MPs which means the government also has 25 MPs, although they are claiming they have 26.

Both sides also claim to have the support of Bruno Leingkon who is the MP currently overseas for medical reasons.

The constitution and what it means

Section(42)(2) of Vanuatu’s constitution stipulates that in order to unseat a prime minister and change the government an absolute majority of parliamentarians have to vote in favour of the motion of no confidence.

With 52 seats in the house, the absolute majority is 27.

The onus is on Loughman to secure the 27 votes he needs to unseat Kalsakau. If he does not, then the prime minister and his government remain in place.

However, with the numbers so close Kalsakau may encounter some difficulty trying to pass bills going forward.

Any constitutional amendments will certainly need bi-partisan support.

Reasons for moving the motion

Documents sighted by RNZ Pacific’s correspondent in Port Vila, Hilaire Bule, show the opposition condemns the government’s foreign policy decisions saying it undermines Vanuatu’s independence and sovereignty as well as its position as a non-aligned state.

The opposition is also accusing the government of exerting undue influence and political interference in state institutions and of intimidating public administrators.

One issue that has been commented on publicly though is disagreement with the government raising the country’s minimum wage by 36 percent from $US1.82 (VT220) an hour to $US2.48 (VT300) in June.

What are the leaders saying?

Speaking to journalists after his failed attempt to move his motion on Thursday, Loughman said he remains confident of toppling the government.

“Even though they claimed to command majority they did not make it to parliament,” he told the Vanuatu Daily Post.

The government also maintains it has the numbers.

Deputy Prime minister Matai Seremaiah told RNZ Pacific they boycotted Thursday’s parliament sitting to call the opposition’s bluff on its claim to the support of 29 MPs.

“So the speaker has adjourned parliament to Wednesday, as per the standing orders, and again, now, everyone knows that they don’t have the number as they claim as of last night,” Seremaiah said.

“We will be ready to defeat them motion against the Prime Minister, because, again, the onus is on them to have a 27 to carry out what they intend to do.”