Opposition numbers increasing in Vanuatu's no confidence debate | Pacific Beat

Opposition numbers increasing in Vanuatu's no confidence debate

Opposition numbers increasing in Vanuatu's no confidence debate

Updated 20 March 2013, 17:51 AEDT

Tomorrow is D-Day for Vanuatu's Prime Minister Sato Kilman with parliament set to debate a motion of no confidence in his government.

24 hours out from the vote it seems the opposition has the numbers to remove Prime Minister Kilman from office, despite only having the support of 16 members when it lodged the motion last week.

But if there is a change of government it remains unclear who would take the top job, with the Opposition Leader, Edward Natapei, claiming he won't put himself forward as Prime Minister.

Radio Australia contacted the Vanuatu government but it declined to comment.

Presenter: Emma Younger

Speakers: Ralph Regenvanu, Opposition MP; Edward Natapei, Opposition Leader; Tony Wilson, Editor of the Vanuatu Independent

YOUNGER: Controversy and scandal has dogged Sato Kilman's government since it took office last October.

That's led to two motions of no confidence being lodged since December, with the most recent put forward by Opposition MP Ralph Regenvanu last week.

Mr Regenvanu says he was motivated by a number of issues.

REGENVANU: There's a number of reasons carried over from last time that haven't been resolved including issues to do with the sailing boat that's sitting in the harbour which ongoing issues continue to arise. There's the issue to do with the minister of foreign affairs travelling to Papua New Guinea and then lying to the media and the public that he was going for certain reasons and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea calling him a liar, never dealt with by the Prime Minister. Various other failures of the Prime Minister to effectively, for example, curb corruption within the high levels of the public service. One particular instance that's cited in the motion of no confidence is the director general of the Ministry of Internal Affairs awarding a contract for the processing of visas to a company owned by himself.

YOUNGER: This week the opposition has galvanised further support for its motion with the issue of West Papua thrown into the spotlight.

Unhappy with Vanuatu's increasingly close ties with the Indonesian government, Opposition Leader Edward Natapei has been calling for Port Vila to annul its cooperation agreement with Jakarta.

He also wants Indonesia's observer status within the Melanesian Spearhead Group revoked before July's meeting, with West Papua to be given full membership status instead.

NATAPEI: If there was a change this week then certainly that will be the direction we will be taking.

YOUNGER: At this stage, observers believe that will be the direction the country will take.

It appears support for the motion has been steadily growing since it was lodged last week with the support of only 16 members.

Yesterday in parliament, 28 MPs were sitting in the opposition seats with only 21 in the government's.

Tony Wilson is the editor of the Vanuatu Independent newspaper.

WILSON: The numbers are looking very strong in favour of the opposition. There's some suggestion that out of the 52 MPs, there may be as many as 34 to 38 joining the opposition. So it's becoming clearer that this is well orchestrated and has strength in numbers.

YOUNGER: The first motion of no confidence lodged by the opposition against the present government failed when it was debated last December.

But Mr Wilson says this time, it's managed to garner greater support from outside parliament, largely from the business community.

He says concerns their concerns are many and varied.

WILSON: It's got a lot to do with the way business is conducted, the way business is being hampered and the way new business is not being encouraged to set up in Port Vila and Vanuatu more generally. So they have many concerns on those scores.

YOUNGER: But it's not only the business community that harbours concerns about the current government.

Since 2008 there has been 7 changes of government but only 3 different Prime Ministers.

Mr Wilson says many people are tired of the monotonous rotation of familiar faces moving from the office of Prime Minister to Opposition.

WILSON: The vote in October, you have to remember that in the outlying islands here the communication is still very poor and the people that voted for the old faces to be returned to power have little way of actually finding out what actually happens in Port Vila and what their politicians do or don't do. The dissatisfaction comes from areas like Port Vila and Luganville in Santo where there is communication and where the people know exactly what their government is doing, not doing or accused of. Sadly a lot of them were voted back because people in the outer islands have no way of knowing what happens here.

YOUNGER: But if there is a change of government, it seems likely there'll be some fresh faces with Opposition Leader Edward Natapei taking himself out of the running for the top job.

NATAPEI: This time round I do not wish to lead the next government. I have allowed the younger people to come in and we hope to elect a new leader to lead our next government.

YOUNGER: At this stage it's unclear who will lead the country if the opposition is successful in ousting the government.

Tony Wilson, editor of the Vanuatu Independent newspaper again.

WILSON: Well there's been a lot of talk about it being a backbencher and someone who hasn't previously been a Prime Minister. There's a number of names being bandied about and it'd be very hard to know who it will be but there does seem to be a very strong feeling it'll be a new face in the top job.

YOUNGER: The country's parliament is no stranger to motions of no confidence, with seven staged since 2010.

Mr Wilson believes if there is a change of Prime Minister, a new government is likely to offer greater stability.

WILSON: If the numbers are stacking up like we mentioned earlier and they're in their mid-thirties, that would lead to the possibility of stable government which is something everyone craves here.

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