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Vanuatu's political situation described as worst ever | Pacific Beat

Vanuatu's political situation described as worst ever

Vanuatu's political situation described as worst ever

Updated 14 November 2012, 11:47 AEDT

Vanuatu's Parliament is due to meet for the first time since the General Election in a week's time, with the question of who will be in charge of the country still very much up in the air.

It will require some hard talking to put together a workable coalition, but even if that's achieved, the question then is how long will it last?

Just prior to the election, Marc Neil-Jones, the publisher of the Vanuatu Daily Post launched the independent radio station Buzz FM, with a pledge to keep the people better informed about the political sitation in their country.

Marc spoke to Richard Ewart from Port Vila.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Marc Neil-Jones, the publisher of the Vanuatu Daily Post


NEIL-JONES: This is the worst I've ever seen it and I've been in this country 23 years now. It really is deadlocked and I have real concerns over how long a government is likely to last. Both sides are claiming the numbers, even with the numbers they've only got a very, very slender majority. One side has claimed they've got 28, the other side's claiming they've got 31, well that's more than 52. The numbers keep going up with both sides claiming up to 30 members. The problem is that traditionally after elections they're very careful on giving out too much information on whether one side has got the numbers, because it leaves things wide open for financial rewards and bribery to take place to attract people over to the other side. But this time round there are so many parties and so many individuals with small coalitions, I doubt whether a government's going to be formed that's even got 30 members. And with a majority of 26, 27, it's going to be too tight to call.
EWART: And we have this bizarre situation where the National United Party has apparently signed agreements to support both caretaker Prime Minister Sato Kilman and also Edward Natapei's Vanuaaku Pati. If I can quote the leader Ham Lini, he said apparently what happened I act as the party's official spokesman signed with the Kilman group but my vice president has signed with the Natapei group, but because I'm the official spokesman of the party it's not the vice president's job, so I should be on that side, but maybe other things can happen in order to change the idea by the day. So I mean how much more confused could it be when you've got one party literally with a foot in both camps?
NEIL-JONES: Well that's it and according to Daily Post journalists the same applies to a couple of the other parties too. Namangi has three members and one of them was supposed to be with one party and two with the other parties. And they came out attacking foreign missions based in Vila for creating instability. It remains to be seen whether they're back reunited again, but this is the problem that we've got, it's happening and I can't see, as soon as a government is formed I don't think it's going to last long. I think there will be motions of no confidence quite regularly over the next four years because unless you get a major political party. There was talk of Kilman's group, if Kilman's group went with VP, UNP and Land and Justice there may be some stability. But even then there's past history between Sato Kilman and Edward Natapei, and whether that can be sorted out, who knows? But we are going to get a government with a lot of parties, a lot of independents who traditionally cross the floor every five minutes, it's a problem.
EWART: So how do you then go about explaining all that to the listeners to your new station? As I mentioned before your stated aim is to keep them informed about particularly the politics in their country. You said that you didn't feel that was happening with the existing radio stations. But trying to explain that sort of morass to anybody is incredibly difficult I would have thought?
NEIL-JONES: Yes it's not easy at all, and the reality is whatever news come out over the next even 48-72 hours, no one's going to really know until we see the numbers in parliament next Tuesday. I don't want to get put in a position where media has before with previous elections after results come out, where media are being played by politicians to say that they've got certain numbers and to come out with statements that imply that there is steadfast numbers, and then others would be attracted over. I don't want media to be used like that. But the current situation we still can't see any clear majority either side, and until something happens in which case we will ask for proof and look at signatures. But whether they would want that coming out before parliament sits because they will know the weak links and who's crossed the floor, who's joined who, and it could open the doors for the problems and further instability. It's a real issue and the concern I have is the lack of education amongst the voting public, when less a quarter of the registered voters actually bother to go out and vote is one issue, and the fact that they're not using commonsense and voting in a lot of independents based on propaganda that they're putting out on what they will do if elected. You know one person who was elected in Port Vila, whose actually with a political party, has stated that if he's elected he will tar seal every road in the islands. Well that kind of statement is just utterly preposterous and ridiculous, but people accept it and whether people believe that and have voted for him based on that, is difficult to ascertain.
EWART: Just to add to the situation and you talked there about the number of people who actually voted, but of course there is this suggestion that the number of people who are on the roll and eligible to vote have somehow been inflated and maybe significant numbers of those who did vote may have voted illegally?
NEIL-JONES: Yes well this is the concern. There have been more allegations of corruption involving this election than any other I've covered in the last 20-odd years. There are real concerns and one of the issues I have is who can look at these allegations and actually doing anything about it? The Ombudsman office in Vanuatu is currently very weak, very little comes out of it. No leaders are ever prosecuted for breach of the Leadership Code or any other allegations of corruption. If there are corrupt practices involved that involve existing MPs, the Ombudsman should be looking at it, but they won't do anything. It's just ridiculous, and it's that sort of problem that in Melanesian society you need to make a precedent. The Ombudsman needs to have teeth, they need to pass legislation to ensure that the Vanuatu Ombudsman can prosecute if needed. Currently the Ombudsman can't do that. So what's the point of an Ombudsman office? These allegations of bribery and fraud in the elections, all people will say we're innocent till proven guilty. And who's going to take them to court? Is the Public Prosecutor employed by the government going to take them to court? These are issues that have been going on for a while now in this country and it is a real concern, and I think that foreign missions need to be sitting down and discussing this and taking a group approach to these concerns. If the Vanuatu government is at all serious about tackling corruption, they've got to pass legislation that gives the Ombudsman teeth. And so far they haven't done that.


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