Vanuatu’s political instability hampers development and cyclone recovery efforts

Vanuatu Parliament

Vanuatu Parliament. Image from Flickr page of Phillip Capper. CC BY 2.0 DEED

Three strong cyclones hit the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu this year but recovery efforts have been hindered by political instability as politicians vie for control of government. Since August, the country has seen the appointment of three prime ministers by the Parliament, and a fourth one could hold power after a motion of no confidence was filed against the incumbent government on November 9.

Ishmael Kalsakau was prime minister for nine months, Sato Kilman for 34 days, and Charlot Salwai was the nation’s leader for only 31 days when a motion was filed urging the ceremonial head of state to dissolve the parliament. Legislators said the motion was necessary to enhance development and speed up the country’s post-cyclone recovery.

Two cyclones (Judy and Kevin) hit the country last March, which severely affected the entire population because of the damage to the country's power and water utilities. Another cyclone (Lola) struck the country this month, further undermining the country's recovery.

A Daily Post newsroom opinion summed up the country’s political crisis:

Vanuatu is continuing its political crisis rollercoaster ride as the balance of power in Parliament threatens to shift with another motion of no confidence, this time with 29 signatories.

The whole nation is now wondering, with good reason, if a new government can bring stability or if Parliament might be dissolved again.

The crisis in Parliament prevented the passage of vital bills like the proposed budget for 2024.

Some citizens have initiated a public action and movement aimed at calling out leaders to prioritize urgent social concerns. Concerned Voters of Vanuatu have published an online petition urging leaders to stop the political instability.

Political instability is disrupting Vanuatu’s development and service delivery to our communities across all islands. It fuels policy inconsistencies, interrupts development projects, hinders economic development and planning, discourages foreign investment, affects employment opportunities, and wastes the Vanuatu Government’s limited funds.

Political instability reduces confidence in national leadership, divides communities and diverts resources away from essential services: healthcare, education, infrastructure, social welfare and emergency relief efforts. Political instability harms Vanuatu’s international reputation and credibility.

In an interview with Radio New Zealand, Cathy Solomon echoed the sentiment of ordinary residents:

The rural people are still waiting for help. The people are suffering in terms of development.

How do the people of this nation benefit from our independence? How do the children, the women, disability and disadvantaged people get their needs met?

These politicians are too busy fighting for power, fighting for their money, fighting for their own benefit, fighting for their happiness.

Vanuatu's only female MP, Gloria Julia King, shared her frustration about the crisis last August. “We've just come out of a pandemic, we've just had two cyclones, we're gifted for disaster. We should be in recovery mode now.”

A journalist tweeted his analysis of local politics

Dr Willie Tokon of Transparency International Vanuatu asked leaders to ponder these questions:

Is what I am doing going towards benefitting the average citizen of Vanuatu?

Is what I am doing going towards maximum beneficial and effective use of the people’s funds?

Is what I am doing contributing towards Tropical Cyclone (TC) Judy, TC Kevin and TC Lola recovery?

Is what I am doing contributing towards building national togetherness or is it causing division and civil anger?

If Parliament is dissolved this week, the nation will be under a caretaker government until a snap election is held next year.

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