Vanuatu PM denies lack of consultation over proposed reform

Vanuatu‘s parliamentary opposition says the government has failed to consult adequately about introducing political reforms.

Vanuatu‘s prime minister Charlot Salwai in New Zealand Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Johnny Blades

Addressing Vanuatu‘s long running problem of political instability had been a stated aim of prime minister Charlot Salwai‘s government when he came to power in 2016.

But little has been achieved on this front as the parliament term approaches an end.

However, parliament is convening tomorrow when Vanuatu‘s government is seeking to pass the Political Parties Registration Act.

Part of a bid to stop frequent changes of government, this would make parties subject to a legal framework.

But passing constitutional amendments requires a two-thirds majority in parliament – something the government has so far struggled to do.

Opposition leader Ishmael Kalsakau said he doubted the government would muster the numbers because it hadn‘t consulted broadly.

“They come up with these ideas, but they want to shove it down everyone‘s throats, instead of trying to get people to understand why there is good intention surrounding this sort of legislation and getting the numbers to support it.

Mr Kalsakau said the government has never properly consulted with the opposition on these reforms

“We‘ve got a fragmented group (in parliament). If you can‘t build trust among members of parliament, then you‘ve never got the numbers to deal with questions of integrity.”

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Vanuatu opposition leader Ishmael Kalsakau Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Mr Salwai denied that there‘s been a lack of consultation, saying the Constitutional Review Committee has gained a wide range of views on proposed reforms.

It was clear early on in his tenure that some of the planned reforms were not universally popular – government has already dropped a proposed constitutional amendment to create reserved parliament seats for women.

Yet the present parliament has no women MPs and only five have won seats since Vanuatu gained independence 39 years ago.

Mr Salwai said a key step towards better representation of women would be passing the Political Parties Registration Act

“I think what is important now is to allow in the constitution, especially article 4, to allow parliament to legislate on political parties. And by having legislation on political parties maybe we can address issues of gender.”

Meanwhile, the government last week succeeded in electing a new Speaker, Simeon Seule from Mr Salwai‘s Reunification of Movements for Change party

Mr Seule replaced Esmon Saimon of the Vanua‘aku Pati which is now in the opposition.

He said he would act in a neutral capacity as speaker, should another of the frequent motions of no confidence against Mr Salwai come across his desk.

“I‘m not sure that there will be anything like that, the government is very strong now. We have 31 members in the government or 29 (out of 52 MPs in total). And I think they also want to maintain their position until the end of the term.”

Vanuatu is due to go its next general election around March next year.

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