15 Oct 2015

No confidence motion lodged in Vanuatu

9:31 am on 15 October 2015

Vanuatu's opposition has lodged a motion of no confidence in the prime minister, Sato Kilman, amid a political crisis triggered by last weekend's pardon of 14 convicted MPs.

Sato Kilman - pictured during a visit to Russia in March 2015

Sato Kilman - pictured during a visit to Russia in March 2015 Photo: Vladimir Pesnya / RIA Novosti

The Daily Post Newspaper says the motion was received by the Clerk of Parliament, Louis Kalnpel, because the Speaker, Marcellino Pipite, left for his home island of Santo early this week.

The motion was signed by 27 MPs.

An opposition spokesperson says the opposition bloc has a total of 22 MPs but five MPs from the government side have defected.

The Clerk has advised the Speaker of the motion and indicated he is due to return to Port Vila to determine if the motion is in order.

The opposition wants an extraordinary sitting of parliament on October 21st to debate the motion, one day before the sentencing by the Supreme Court of the 14 MPs found guilty of bribery last week.

Among those pardoned by Mr Pipite, who himself was convicted, is the Deputy Prime Minister Moana Carcasses.

Mr Pipite issued the pardon in his capacity of acting president when the head of state was abroad.

Actions of acting president makes a 'mockery'

The convicted former MP and former Speaker of Parliament Marcellino Pipite.

The convicted former MP and former Speaker of Parliament Marcellino Pipite. Photo: Hilaire Bule

Vanuatu's Council of Churches says the actions of the acting president, Marcelino Pipite, to pardon himself and 13 other MPs convicted of bribery makes a mockery of the country's motto: "In God We Stand."

A member of the council's executive, Pastor Allan Nafuki, says the constitution is based on Christian principles and deserves respect from the country's leaders.

Mr Nafuki says the latest political instability is disappointing, and says the MPs should face their sentence next Thursday.

"What has been happening is not in the interests of our people, it's not in the interests of the church, it's only come to a conclusion by saying that it is the interest of each political party's interest."

Mr Nafuki says it appears there is one law for the people and one for the leaders, which is unacceptable.

Vanuatu's president, Baldwin Lonsdale, says Mr Pipite acted unlawfully and has promised action which he is expected to announce later this week.

Vanuatu President, Baldwin Lonsdale.

Vanuatu President, Baldwin Lonsdale. Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, a specialist in Vanuatu governance issues says the scandal surrounding government MPs could be a rare opportunity to finally stabilise the country's politics.

The Australian National University's Siobhan McDonnell, a former legal advisor to a previous Vanuatu government, says it's long been known that government is regularly changed through the exchange of money and gifts, but last week's Supreme Court ruling has laid that bare.

She says public outrage at both the verdict and pardoning could propel much-needed constitutional change.

"I guess what has happened as a result of the court case is people have seen the way money politics works and they have said 'we need a better style of politics, this is not operating in the way that the founding fathers imagined it would when they wrote the constitution.' Political parties are massively fragmented in Vanuatu now and there is a kind of horse trading that goes on because of that. That needs to shift."

Public holiday for by-election

A public holiday has been declared in Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila, today for people to vote in a by-election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of former prime minister Edward Natapei.

Our correspondent in Port Vila, Len Garae, says the pardoning controversy is unlikely to affect the by-election, as none of the six candidates are connected to the bribery case that's engulfed the government.

He says the by-election is likely to be a close race between the frontrunners, Edward Natapei's son Kenneth and former attorney general Ishmael Kalsakau.

"Ishmael Kalsakau has been seen with a large number of supporters, and he's starting as a new candidate. So that is going to be a challenge for the young Natapei and it's going to be interesting what the outcome is going to be."

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