Charlot Salwai elected 4th prime minister of Vanuatu in three years

Vanuatu's new Prime Minister Charlot Salwai (left) and Graon Mo Jastis Party's Ralph Regenvanu
Vanuatu's new Prime Minister Charlot Salwai (left) and Graon Mo Jastis Party's Ralph Regenvanu who is back as Minister for Climate Change Adaptation, Energy, Environment. Image: Facebook

By Koroi Hawkins, RNZ Pacific editor, and Don Wiseman, RNZ Pacific senior journalist

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Sato Kilman has been voted out through a motion-of-no-confidence in the country’s Parliament in Port Vila today.

The motion was carried by a show of hands, with 27 votes, in the absence of the government bench which had vacated the floor in protest ahead of the motion being moved.

Charlot Salwai was then nominated as the sole candidate for Prime minister and was duly-elected by secret ballot with 29 votes in the absence again of the MPs on the other side of the House.

Salwai was previously prime minister from February 2016 until the general election in 2020.

Immediately after the vote, Salwai took his oath and was installed as the new prime minister of the Republic of Vanuatu.

In his acceptance speech, Salwai apologised to the Vanuatu public for the ongoing “political crises” which have seen four prime ministers elected now in the the space of three years.

He also thanked police for keeping the peace and thanked citizens for respecting the law and each other.

Salwai, who is the leader of the Reunification Movement for Change Party, thanked all of the MPs who voted for him and in particular the leaders of the three major political parties in this coalition government — Ishmael Kalsakau Ma’aukoro from the Union of Moderate Parties, Jotham Napat of the Leaders Party, and Ralph Regenvanu of the Graon Mo Jastis Party.

Salwai said Vanuatu was facing many challenges economically, socially and environmentally with climate change, and he acknowledged the added impacts that political instability were having on local businesses and society at large.

“It has not yet been 12 months since the initial establishment of the government of honourable Ma’aukoro which he led following the snap election in October of 2022 yet today is the second time that we have changed the government,” Salwai said speaking in Bislama.

“I say sorry to the last government but we exist in this system of democracy where when the weight of the number of members moves to one side a change of government follows.”

Following the Prime Minister’s speech, Parliament was adjourned until 8:30am on Tuesday, October 10.

Sato Kilman - pictured during a visit to Russia in March 2015
Ousted prime minister Sato Kilman . . . only came to power last month in a similar leadership challenge mounted against the then prime minister Ishmael Kalsakau Ma’aukoro. Image: Vladimir Pesnya /RIA Novosti

Government walk-out
The ousted prime minister Sato Kilman only came to power last month in a similar leadership challenge mounted against the then prime minister Kalsakau.

The current Parliament was elected through a snap election in 2022 which was triggered by then prime minister Bob Loughman before a challenge against his leadership could be mounted.

The walk-out staged this afternoon by the now former government MPs came about after they had argued unsuccessfully against the validity of today’s sitting.

This is in light of an ongoing Court of Appeal case for one of their members, Bruno Leingkone, whose seat had been vacated by the Speaker last week on the basis that the MP had missed three consecutive Parliament sittings without the express consent of the Speaker’s office while receiving medical care in South Korea.

The now opposition grouping were also trying to argue that because of the appeal case today’s vote-of-no-confidence should have been conducted as if the 52 member house were at full complement.

This would have raised the threshold for an absolute majority which is required to unseat a prime minister.

Uncertain future
Despite the one-sided affair in Parliament this afternoon, the political instability in Vanuatu is likely to continue with only a handful of MPs required to shift the balance of power.

Before staging their walk-out, members on the other side of the House had also indicated they would likely challenge the legality of this afternoon’s proceedings in court.

The immediate challenge facing the newly elected prime minister in forming his cabinet over the weekend will be keeping everybody in his new coalition government happy as he allocates portfolios.

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

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