ni-Vanuatu prepare for snap election in five weeks
Vanuatu emerges from political turmoil as candidates sign up for next month's snap election.
Vanuatu is preparing for elections in about five weeks after weathering a political crisis that dragged on for several months.
It came after 14 then government MPs were jailed on bribery charges.
The ruling left the government with just 14 MPs in the House and the opposition short of the numbers to topple it.
This led to a stand-off until the President, Baldwin Lonsdale, ordered new elections, set for January 22nd.
A visiting fellow of the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University, Tess Newton-Cain, who lives in Vanuatu, told Don Wiseman there is a sense the country has emerged well from a very difficult time.
TESS NEWTON-CAIN: Well, all things considered, considering everything we've been through with, both in terms of Cyclone Pam and El Nino and then the protracted political issues that we have had. Including some really land mark court cases, I think we have come out of it well. People are getting on with things everyone has now accepted that there is going to be an election in the New Year people are now focusing on that you know there is a level of engagement people are talking about that, voicing their opinions about what they want to see, what they don't want to see. But it has been done in a very measured respectful and community focused way and in other countries this could have led to all sorts of things that we are very fortunate we haven't had to deal with.
DON WISEMAN: The manner in which President Baldwin Lonsdale has gone about things has been - he has had a very firm emphatic approach to things - it is quite unusual for a Vanuatu President. What has been the response from the general public?
TNC: I think generally overall the response has been very positive people have been very appreciative of the leadership that the President is providing starting with the appeals he made on behalf of the country and the media aftermath of cyclone Pam and continuing through how he dealt with the issue of the Speaker attempting to pardon people and then having to finally make the decision about the dissolution of Parliament. I think he would rather have had a bit less to do. I think he feels he has earned his keep for sure if not for this year for the whole of his tenure but certainly he has been able to maintain that sense of statesmanship and that sense of gravitas that has really been needed at times like this.
DW: The former opposition MPs have indicated that they may well still appeal this week's decision with the point being that they want to clarify some of the constitutional issues around it not in anyway to disrupt the election. Do a lot of people see the President as overstepping constitutional boundaries.
TNC: I don't think a lot of people have seen that. I think that what we have seen happen is actually uncharted territory, I think what the opposition is thinking is based on what I have heard them say is that they see that their is scope for having some of those issues around where the limits of the discretion are, put in place precedents so that in the unlikely event that we are ever in this situation again that there is more guidance available to the President and the parliament and the court as to what should happen in those circumstances.
DW: Prior to the appeal by the 14 jailed MP's there had been a lot of talk among the traditional chiefs of a pardon for them and they were approaching President Lonsdale. It is clearly something that remains there in the background so do you think this is something the president might act on sooner rather than later?
TNC: It is hard to know exactly what the President's thinking would be. I think that given the general sense of acceptance of the fate of what happened to those MP's in terms of them being convicted and then imprisoned and then waiting for the appeal process to take its course. I don't think that there is necessarily going to be any rush to pardon them I think it is generally felt that that is the right thing. I certainly don't think it is going to happen before the election and I think the President would then seek to take advice from the new government however that is constituted before any provisions like that were made.
DW: Veteran politicians like Willy Jimmy commented after the failed appeal that it would clearly change the way in which MP's went about their business from now on that they didn't quite understand what was required but now they know. Is that a surprise to you?
TNC: It is not a surprise to me I think that there was a sense of well we didn't know it was the wrong thing. Or possibly, perhaps more realistically we didn't know that anyone was in the position to do anything about it. I think what we have seen now and what has become a very real recognition in all parts of the community is that A it is the wrong thing to do and B there are agencies and prosecutors in the court and the police that can work to do something about it if it happens again. No one else should be in a position of saying well we didn't know that that was the wrong thing to do or we didn't think that anything would happen to us if we did it.
DW: There must be a lot of delight that all of those institutions did what is expected because, well, it is not the normal Melanesian way is it?
TNC: I think it is pretty much a landmark activity for the whole of the region, I think Vanuatu has set the bar very high in terms of executing those processes of government. So yes I think generally there is a feeling that the country should be duly proud of those institutions that have followed the rules and done their job and executed their powers appropriately. Obviously we realise that the pragmatic and practical haul out of that has left us in a situation where we haven't had a functioning government we haven't been able to pass the budget before the end of the year and now we are having to have this snap election so all of those things are part of the fall out so certainly I haven't had anyone say to me oh this is all the supreme courts fault we should never have found those people guilty. What people are saying is yeah this is creating a whole lot of headaches. This has created a political mess but we would much rather have this mess than have a situation where that sort of activity was just allowed to escalate and escalate without being checked by the courts.
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