Recent events in the Republic of Vanuatu’s political arena in its current Legislature has scored another first.
The First Sitting of Parliament for 2021 has started off with a bang with two motions, one against the Prime Minister and one to remove the Speaker of Parliament.
A motion of No-confidence on the current Prime Minister Bob Loughman Weibur was deposited with the Speaker of Parliament and was due to be heard when the Government lodged a motion to remove the Speaker.
The Speaker of Parliament made a ruling on the floor of Parliament that the motion by the Government to remove him from the position was not in order and the movers of that motion were asked to amend the motion and re-submit it for consideration and debate on the floor of Parliament at a later date.
The Government went to court to overturn the Speaker’s ruling and during that process, the government side boycotted Parliament to await the result of their court application.
In the meantime the Speaker attempt to convene Parliament to debate and pass listed bills however Parliament was unable to discuss business because of the Government boycott.
Last week saw the Speaker exercise his role as Speaker of Parliament to make a declaration under the country’s Vacation of Seats Act Cap 174 which resulted in nineteen members losing their seats in Parliament for being absent from Parliament and failing to obtain permission from the Speaker to be absent.
The Speaker made his ruling based the Vacation of Seats Act Cap 174 clause 2d which states as follows:
“2. A member of Parliament shall vacate his seat if: (d). he is absent from three consecutive sittings of Parliament without having obtained from the Speaker or in his absence, the Deputy Speaker permission to be absent or remain absent” .
This is not the first time that a member of Parliament has lost his seat in such a manner as in 1988, the Courts upheld the decision by the Speaker of Parliament at that time resulted in 18 members of the Opposition vacating their seats and being evicted from Parliament.
The Opposition at that time sought judicial means to overturn the Speaker’s ruling that they could no longer enter Parliament but the Supreme Courts of Vanuatu upheld the decision of the Speaker in 1988.
In November 2019, a member of Parliament also vacated his seat for reasons of being absent from Parliament without the Speaker’s permission for three consecutive sessions despite taking the matter all the way up the the Vanuatu Court of Appeals.
The member of Parliament who vacated his seat in November of 2019 was Honorable Gratien Shadrack.
Honorable Gratien Shadrack stood again for re-election in 2020 and was re-elected. In the first Sitting of the current Legislature, he was elected unopposed as the Speaker in Vanuatu’s current legislature.
The nineteen members affected by the Speaker’s ruling under the country’s Vacation of Seats Act included the current Prime Minister – Honorable Bob Loughman Weibur, the current Deputy Prime Minister – Honorable Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau, and the majority of cabinet ministers and a number of backbenchers.
The “Government” members have now lodged a constitutional application claiming that their rights have been infringed by the Speaker in his ruling and the case will be heard on Friday of this week.
The Speaker’s legal team has also lodged a petition to dismiss the government’s application and the matter is now under the jurisdiction of the Courts.
The Speaker has suspended the sitting of Parliament until Friday citing the current legal cases however with the judicial processes here which in such cases often go to the Appeal Courts, the situation will most probably be ongoing until final determinations are made on the matters at hand.