Today 29th June 2021, Prime Minister Bob Loughman and his government defeated a motion of no confidence put against him by the Opposition in the Vanuatu Parliament.
The content of the motion included: 1.The suspension of the whole Opposition from Parliament which was seen by the Appeals Court of Vanuatu as “undermining democracy in Vanuatu” and was seen as an abuse of majority power; 2. Continued excessive spending by the Government; 3. Failure to provide financial stimulus or assistance to businesses heavily impacted by the Corona Pandemic; 4.Failure to discipline Ministers and Mps for actions not befitting leaders; and 5. Mismanagement of Scholarships.
The Prime Minister responded to the allegations and the Speaker took the matter straight to a vote without allowing further discussion on the floor of Parliament despite a point of order being raised by the former Speaker who was threatened with eviction when he continually raised his point of order.
The Government is also facing another challenge in that the Supreme Court has ruled that 19 mps from the government side including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and a significant number of ministers and backbenchers have vacated their seats by virtue of the Vacation of Seats Act 2.d due to absence in 3 consecutive sittings.
The government has appealed, asking for and being granted a stay order from the Supreme Court pending an appeal hearing in the Appeals Court of Vanuatu for which the preliminary conference for the appeal took place today and the trial is now set for 12th July 2021.
If the Government side lose the appeal, then there will be a bi-elections for 20 seats being 19 seats affected by the Vacation of Seats Act and one vacated by former Prime Minister – Charlot Salwai as the result of a perjury case.
If the decision of the Appeals Court goes against the government side, it will also be the precursor to an interesting situation with enormous ramifications for the country as included in the 19 vacated seats includes the current Speaker of Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Lands, the Minister for Agriculture, the Minister for Youth and Sports, the Minister for Trade, the Minister for Public Utilities, the Minister for Health, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and several backbenchers.
For the Government, there is not only the challenge of winning the Appeal Court application but also the possibility of having to go to bi-elections if the judgment is not favourable in which case the challenge is more difficult in that the Opposition may win some seats and with a smart strategy, the Opposition could end winning enough seats to upset the Government’s grip on power.
And then there is the suggestion of a conspiracy case which surfaced during the Supreme Court trial for the 19 against the Speaker which was actually raised by the sitting judge warning the parties concerned of criminal implications of such actions. If this goes the way of other conspiracy cases in the past then it could be a very trying time for the Government.
The political war that the Government is having to deal with resulted from a mutiny within its own ranks and has developed into a series of bouts with the Government winning the first round though the win was marred by a loss of numbers resulting in the Government ending up with a reduced but workable majority.
Should the appeal decision go against the government side, the Government will no longer have a majority in Parliament and as such there have been suggestions that the remaining 13 government mps resign thereby causing a political crises with the majority of seats empty in Parliament and the only likely solution will be dissolution and a nationwide snap elections with all going to the polls almost 2 years after the last general elections.
A result preferred by the Government side as they have full war chests in the event of such a situation arising.
From an observer’s view, the following rounds will be harder because they will be fought out not in the Parliament arena but in the Courts and potentially in the public arena by the possible bi-elections of 19 vacated seats if the Appeals Court so decides. Areas which are not necessarily controlled by the Government or the Opposition.
Fortunately, the country has not descended into a situation of civil strife unlike other countries where such situations will often generate the environment for civil strife.