1 Dec 2016

Vanuatu govt's reforms at risk of being derailed

8:56 am on 1 December 2016

Fresh from staving off a motion of no-confidence, Vanuatu's government is now at risk of losing a majority required to pass constitutional reforms.

The speaker of parliament yesterday ruled the motion as invalid, after a number of MPs who earlier signed the document subsequently withdrew their names.

Vanuatu's new parliament sits to elect a prime minister, 11 February 2016.

Vanuatu's new parliament, 11 February 2016 Photo: Television Blong Vanuatu

As parliament adjourned, the government of Charlot Salwai appeared to have the support of 31 of the 52 MPs.

However, the Lands Minister Ralph Regenvanu said their aim of introducing political reform through constitutional amendments might now be derailed.

In June, the reforms passed a first reading in parliament with the required two-thirds majority, but he said they might fall short for the upcoming second reading.

"We've lost the two-thirds majority we had and the second reading will be on the 12th of December, which is in two weeks time," he said

"So unless we can convince the opposition to support the proposed amendments in the interests of national stability - which is what the core of the amendments are all about - it looks like we won't be able to get the second reading through. Which means we can just forget the constitutional reforms now."

Vanuatu Constitutional Review Committee with its report.

Vanuatu Constitutional Review Committee with its report. L to R: Ms Agnes Tari (secretariat, State Law Office), Ms Christine Lahua (secretariat, State Law Office), Ham Bulu (NUP rep), Hon. Edwin Macreveth (Acting Speaker), Hon. Ralph Regenvanu (Chair, CRC, GJP rep) and Hon. Johnny Koanapo (Vice-Chair, CRC, VP rep) Photo: Vanuatu CRC

However the government would ostensibly only need to secure the support of a few more MPs to get the two-thirds majority.

Mr Regenvanu said the ad-hoc committee tasked with reviewing the constitutional amendments would be meeting to discuss the proposed reforms in the next week or so.

He said the committee included the opposition leader and others, and would be a critical window for government to engage with the opposition on how best to move the reforms through.

"But now we have to seriously engage with the opposition to make sure we get the numbers, and we only need three from them,"

"But the ad-hoc committee starts its work tomorrow for a week and that includes the leader of the opposition and government members. So hopefully that group can work out something before we come to the constitutional session."