20 Dec 2017

Vanuatu PM Salwai defeats motion of no-confidence

6:50 am on 20 December 2017

Vanuatu's prime minister Charlot Salwai has defeated a parliamentary vote of no-confidence lodged against him, 37 votes to 13.

The opposition, led by Ishmael Kalsakau, tabled the motion of no-confidence, citing discontent with a raft of government policies.

Vanuatu prime minister Charlot Salwai (standing) defends his policies during debate for a parliamentary motion of confidence tabled against him by the opposition, 19 December 2017.

Vanuatu prime minister Charlot Salwai (standing) defends his policies during debate for a parliamentary motion of confidence tabled against him by the opposition, 19 December 2017. Photo: Vanuatu Parliament

However, Mr Salwai still has a strong majority of support in parliament, almost two years into his stint in charge of Vanuatu's government. Mr Salwai is now Vanuatu's longest-serving prime minister since the Ham Lini government of 2004-2008.

His coalition government includes the three biggest single parties in the parliament. These are the prime minister's own Reunification of Movements for Change, the Vanua'aku Pati led by Joe Natuman and the Graon mo Jastis Pati of Ralph Regenvanu.

Ralph Regenvanu

Ralph Regenvanu Photo: WikiCommons / Marke Lowen

Mr Regenvanu and his party were winners in a last-minute cabinet reshuffle before today's vote. The Port Vila MP has been appointed Foreign Minister, vacating the Lands portfolio to which his fellow party member Alfred Maoh has been appointed.

Another Graon mo Jastis MP, Andrew Napuat, has been appointed new Minister of Internal Affairs. Meanwhile, Gracia Shedrack has been appointed as Minister of Health.

Last week, the opposition listed six reasons for the motion, including concerns over corruption, ministerial "incompetence", decentralisation and tax.

The list also included "tolerance of outstanding revenue totalling over Vt4 billion ($US36.1 million) and the signing of the PACER Plus regional trade agreement.

While defending his policies during debate over the motion, Mr Salwai argued that Vanuatu had much to gain from PACER in areas such as labour mobility, while working around issues related to the trade deal. But he said that Vanuatu had benefitted enormously from participation in New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, under which thousands of ni-Vanuatu have secured jobs, and that this would be extended through PACER.

Meanwhile, with the opposition roundly defeated, Mr Regenvanu described its motion as frivolous, and "an attempt just to get into government".

"The prime minister.. he made a very good response in which he just basically showed how those arguments were not really at all any reason to put a motion," said the Graon mo Jastis leader who revealed he had been offered the position of prime minister by the opposition ahead of today's vote.

"I'm not interested in being prime minister of a government that I'm not confident about, and that isn't in the best interests of the nation," said Mr Regenvanu.

Prime Minister of Vanuatu Charlot Salwai

Prime Minister of Vanuatu Charlot Salwai Photo: Supplied

In the reshuffle, Mr Salwai's RMC party and the National United Party of Ham Lini each lost a portfolio. In the case of Mr Lini's party, this is due to it having lost one of its MPs earlier this year. In the RMC's instance, Mr Salwai has sacrificed a ministerial position in the interests of coalition harmony.

The Graon mo Jastis Pati and the so-called Leaders Bloc both gained an extra portfolio in what Mr Regenvanu called a more fair distribution of cabinet portfolios, with both groupings previously under-served in ministerial positions relative to their number of MPs.

"One of the issues that was causing a bit of unrest in the ranks was the fair sharing of portfolios between the original parties in the original agreement to put Charlot Salwai as the prime minister.

"So what has happened now is that prime minister Salwai has re-allocated portfolios to address this perceived unfairness in sharing. And now we have fair sharing, we have a much more solid government," said Mr Regenvanu.

Winning a two-thirds majority for today's vote indicates that Mr Salwai has the kind of support which could enable him to advance his government's planned political reforms next year.

The reforms include measures to counter the wanton motions of no-confidence that have plagued Vanuatu parliamentary politics for many years.

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