‘People suffering’ from lingering Vanuatu political impasse

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Ni-Vanuatu people going on about their daily lives in Port Vila
Ni-Vanuatu people going on about their daily lives in Port Vila as the country's politicians have been stuck in a court battle over Parliament. Image: RNZ Pacific/Kelvin Anthony

By Kelvin Anthony, RNZ Pacific lead digital and social media journalist

People in Vanuatu believe politicians need to look beyond their own four walls and work to improve the livelihoods of ordinary citizens.

And many who talked to RNZ Pacific said they believed the opposition was partly at fault by constantly blocking the government from carrying out its mandate.

On Friday, the Vanuatu Supreme Court ruled in favour of the opposition, which contested a decision by Parliament’s Speaker regarding what constitutes an absolute parliamentary majority.

The court granted a stay order until today, 3pm, to allow the government time to appeal the decision.

The government was set to appeal, RNZ Pacific confirms.

‘People suffer’
However, people in the capital Port Vila seem to be unhappy with the political impasse, raising concerns about its impact.

Noel Faionalave, 60, from Shefa province told RNZ Pacific people were suffering because of the politicians.

Faionalave said ni-Vanuatu people wanted to see development, but the opposition appeared to be against it.

“The opposition makes the situation very hard for the people. Many people in Vanuatu want the government to stay for four years,” he said.

“The opposition is trying to try to throw out the government . . . now people suffer. We want to see development. But opposition wants to stop development.”

Faionalave believes because the government has only been in power for nine months it must be given time to show results.

Noel Faionalave, 60, from Shefa province. 25 August 2023
Noel Faionalave, 60, from Shefa province . . . “We want to see development. But opposition wants to stop development.” Image: RNZ Pacific/Kelvin Anthony

It is a sentiment shared by Hendon Kalsakau, 65, a tribal chief on Irifa island.

“This situation is affecting deeply the people of my country,” Kalsakau said.

Grassroots level
“People who have jobs, they’re not really feeling the impact of this crisis that we are going through. But people from the grassroots level are affected.

“We don’t need this crisis. We must learn to respect each other.”

Harris Apos, 50, from Toroba province, said Vanuatu’s leaders should focus on the development interests of the community rather than fighting for positions of power.

Apos said the current political dilemma meant that areas needing improvements such as infrastructure development, health and education, were being neglected.

He said if the situation continued then “it will be difficult for people”.

“I think it’s better to let the government run for maybe one year or two years, then we can see what’s going on.”

He said a government’s performance could not be properly put to the test in the short period it has been in power.

Time for churches to help
Apos said it was time to bring in the churches and traditional leaders to help the government.

“In Vanuatu, we believe in kastom and so it’ll be better for the chiefs to come in and help the government.

“We can organise and help the leader of opposition and the prime minister and let them sit down and decide the financial part and let them sit down and decide how we can work together and rebuild.”

Harris Apos, 50, Port Vila. 25 August 2023
Harris Apos, 50, from Toroba province in Port Vila . . . “We believe in kastom and so it’ll be better for the chiefs to come in and help the government.” Image: RNZ Pacific/Kelvin Anthony

MPs ‘don’t care’
There are concerns that the current political climate will continue to go around in circles until there are more women in Parliament.

Cathy Solomon, 64, who is originally from Malampa province, has been living in Port Vila for the last four decades.

She said the elected representatives of the people have defeated the purpose of being an MP by “concentrating more on their personal interests”.

She said there was a lot of things that people needed for the country to move forward.

“The rural people are still waiting for help. The people are suffering in terms of development,” she said.

“The dispensaries that have been built in rural areas for the last 40 years remained the same, the human resource, it remains the same, how people live in the community, it remains the same.

“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?”

Solomon said 90 percent of the population, who put the MPs in Parliament, found that their needs were not being met.

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

Cathy Solomon, 64, from Malampa province has lived in Port Vila for the past 40 years. 25 August 2023
Cathy Solomon, 64, from Malampa province has lived in Port Vila for the past 40 years . . . “These politicians are too busy fighting for power, fighting for their money.” Image: RNZ Pacific/Kelvin Anthony

More women parliamentarians
Solomon said she feared that without more women being in the House the situation would become worse in the coming years.

Vanuatu currently has only one female member of Parliament, who has called for ni-Vanuatu people to hold their MPs to account.

“That’s why we need to get women [in Parliament] so they can challenge them…because women carry the heart of development,” Solomon said.

“Women represent the heart of the family, the children, the disabled, and also they want to see the welfare of the family grow and improve.

“But if women are still missing in Parliament, there will be no development for this nation.”

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

Port Vila generic - women in market
Calls for more women in Vanuatu’s Parliament . . . “If women are still missing in Parliament, there will be no development for this nation.” Photo: RNZ Pacific/Kelvin Anthony
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