‘Just a power grab’ claim over Vanuatu PM’s no-confidence vote boycott

Vanuatu opposition members 16082022
Vanuatu opposition MPs outside the Parliament chamber in Port Vila yesterday morning after a government boycott thwarted their plans to move a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Bob Loughman. Image: Hilaire Bule/RNZ Pacific

By Koroi Hawkins and Lydia Lewis, RNZ Pacific journalists, with reporting and photography from RNZ correspondent Hilaire Bule in Port Vila

The Vanuatu Prime Minister Bob Loughman has confirmed he will attend the next sitting of an extra-ordinary Parliament session on Friday to face a motion of no-confidence in his leadership.

Loughman and 20 MPs loyal to his government boycotted Parliament yesterday, forcing an adjournment to Friday — because of a lack of a quorum — effectively thwarting the opposition’s attempt to move the motion against him.

In response to the boycott opposition leader Ralph Regenvanu said Loughman was only delaying the inevitable.

“We think it’s just a power grab, it’s a last ditch attempt to try in stay in power beyond this week because the numbers have shifted,” Regenvanu said.

Regenvanu also said a request, from the Council of Ministers, conveyed by the Prime Minister over the weekend to the Head of State, calling for the dissolution of Parliament was equally futile.

RNZ Pacific’s reporter in Vanuatu, Hilaire Bule, reported yesterday afternoon that the Head of State, Nikenike Vurobaravu, has now declined the request for a dissolution of Parliament, effectively setting the scene for a showdown in Parliament on Friday.

Bob Loughman said he is prepared to defend himself on the floor.

“We will be there during which time I will have the opportunity to respond to allegations raised against me and I am very confident that the allegations raised against me are baseless,” he said.

Part of Loughman’s confidence also stems from the make up of the 17 government MPs who crossed the floor to join the opposition.

Vanuatu PM Bob Loughman speaks during independence celebrations
Vanuatu PM Bob Loughman speaks during independence celebrations. Image: Hilaire Bule/RNZ Pacific

The only complete political party grouping to shift is a handful of MPs from the Reunification Movement for Change Party led by former prime minister Charlot Salwai.

The rest of the MPs to cross over have done so as individuals leaving their party members still aligned with the government, many of them in ministerial roles.

“That to me will continue to provide instability because you cannot satisfy all of the members at any one time,” Loughman said.

“My view is rather than going to other motions coming in the next one-and-a-half-years (the next election will be in 2024) that it would be in the best interest of this country to go for a fresh election,” he said.

But Regenvanu said deliberations among the MPs that had helped shift the balance of power in the House were already well advanced.

“We expect that we will be able to form government on Friday quite peacefully and efficiently and we are currently finalising the policy platform for the new government for the remaining 18 months or so of the legislature,” Regenvanu said.

Ralph Regenvanu, leader of the opposition in Vanuatu.
Opposition leader Ralph Regenvanu … “We expect that we will be able to form government on Friday.” Image: Hilaire Bule/RNZ Pacific

Both leaders had messages for Vanuatu citizens in the country and around the world watching the political developments unfold.

Regenvanu called for calm and urged citizens to respect the democratic process.

“We have the interest of the people at heart and we are making the changes for the better (sic) of the public,” Regenvanu said.

Prime Minister Loughman also reiterated that the motion of no confidence was a normal parliamentary process but he urged the public to ensure their leaders were making these moves for the right reasons.

“What concerns me though is members, individual members of Parliament moving across from one side of the house to the other for their personal interests as compared to national interests,” Loughman said.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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