4 Feb 2016

UMP commitment to Vanuatu bloc unclear

12:03 pm on 4 February 2016

A question remains over the commitment of the Union of Moderates to a newly-formed coalition hoping to become Vanuatu's new government.

Yesterday in Port Vila, a pact was signed by most leading political groups, comprising around 36 MPs elected in last month's snap election.

The group has reportedly committed to forming a government when parliament sits next week, and to introducing political reform in order to stop the chronic parliamentary instability.

Ralph Regenvanu

Groan Mo Jastis Pati leader, Ralph Regenvanu. Photo: WikiCommons / Marke Lowen

However, the leader of the Groan Mo Jastis Pati, Ralph Regenvanu, said one of the biggest parties, the UMP, with its long-time leader Serge Vohor in jail for bribery, has not yet fully committed to the bloc.

"That's the big question now with the UMP. There are directions coming from inside the jail, from Serge; there are directions coming from the rest of the national executive who don't share the same views with Serge and are trying to actually steer the party away from that reputation it has. we very much would like them to be part of the bloc because we're going to need the greatest number of MPs possible to make these changes to the constitution to implement political reform."

The influence of some of the 14 former government MPs jailed late last year for bribery looms as a disruptive factor in the negotiations over the formation of the country's next government.

The jailing of the MPs gutted the government of Sato Kilman who subsequently refused to form a government of national unity with the opposition, plunging the country into a political impasse which led to the dissolution of parliament and the calling of last month's snap election.

A number of the jailed former MPs remain nominal leaders of parties which won seats in the election, and reports from Port Vila indicate they still wield influence on negotiations.

However many MPs want to move on from the bribery case, according to Ralph Regenvanu who said the justice system had done its work and the case is over.

"But unfortunately it seems there is some effort by some parties, particularly people in the UMP and working with people in jail to try and make it an issue of the new government so that there's all sort of rumours of government being formed to pardon them and that kind of thing, but I hope that doesn't have any more substance than just rumours."

Representatives of Vanuatu's leading political parties including Vanua'aku Pati, the Graon Mo Jastis Pati, the Union for Moderates, the National United Party and the Reunification of Movements for Change.

Representatives of Vanuatu's leading political parties including Vanua'aku Pati, the Graon Mo Jastis Pati, the Union for Moderates, the National United Party and the Reunification of Movements for Change. Photo: Supplied

Ralph Regenvanu would not be drawn on which MPs or parties might be allocated the top positions when parliament resumes next week, saying they've deliberately left that aside for now while they work on consolidating numbers.

Three parties - his party, the UMP and Vanua'aku Pati - each have six seats. A bloc of independents and one-MP parties called Leaders Group, also has six MPs.

The shape of the coalition is fluid, with Mr Regenvanu conceding that changes in the line-up of a bloc of parties ahead of the first sitting of parliament were not unsual.

There are around eleven groupings within the purported bloc who all bring their own set of different demands. This makes the bid to usher in political reform - which requires a two-thirds majority in the 52-seat parliament - all the more difficult to achieve.

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