25 Jul 2018

Vanuatu's Natuman not ready to end political career

4:10 pm on 25 July 2018

Vanuatu's former prime minister Joe Natuman says his political career is not over yet.

The Court of Appeal last week upheld a decision by the Speaker of Parliament to declare the Tanna MP's seat vacant.

This followed Mr Natuman's conviction for perverting the course of justice, for which he was given a two-year suspended sentence.

Ousted Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman

Ousted Vanuatu MP and former prime minister Joe Natuman. Photo: RNZI / Kim Baker-Wilson

A by-election is expected to be held on Tanna within the next two months, with a date to soon be announced by the Electoral Commissiner.

Mr Natuman, who was deputy prime minister before his ejection from parliament, said his Vanua'aku Pati planned to contest the by-election.

"My communities basically say that they wanted me in, and they did not like other people deciding that I should finish. Under the democratic process it's the people who decide," he explained.

"In this case, although an institution decided, they (Tanna constituents) said we still support you. They say you haven't killed anyone, it's just a process, so we are still trusting you and believing in you, so that's what they say."

Mr Natuman is ineligible to stand in the by-election, but said his party would field a candidate who could hold the seat for the remaining two years of the parliament term.

Unless his people withdrew their support for him, he indicated he would stand again for parliament in 2020.

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.

Joe Natuman seated (bottom left) next to Prime Minister Charlot Salwai during a motion of no confidence debate in parliament in 2017. Photo: Vanuatu Parliament

Regarding his ejection from parliament on the ruling of the Speaker, Esmon Saimon, Mr Natuman said he respected the decision.

"Yeah, the speaker was just doing his job. He was advised by the state law office to do that, and he went and proceeded, so he was just doing his duty," Mr Natuman said.

Mr Natuman's conviction stemmed from his attempt to stop a police team from investigating high-ranking officers accused of mutiny when he was prime minister in 2014.

He said he acted in the national interests by trying to resolve an impasse in a police force which had been repeatedly hampered by divisions in its hierarchy.

"But apparently other people in the court system saw it differently. So I accept that. That's alright. That's the normal process," he said.

"But as far as political wise, and in terms of democratic process, in terms of parliamentary democracy, people decide and people remove."

A statue at the entrance to Vanuatu's parliament in the capital, Port Vila.

A statue at the entrance to Vanuatu's parliament in the capital, Port Vila. Photo: RNZI / Jamie Tahana

Mr Natuman was upbeat about the future of the Vanua'aku Pati, which he remains the leader of. Any leadership change would have to be decided by the party at its congress later in the year.

The country's oldest political party is still a central part of the coalition government and is seeking to revive its earlier popularity.

"We have six seats, but now other people are coming to join us, including one from the Green Party, the MP for Shepard Islands, he joined us. Another MP who was aligned to the Iauko Group, an MP from Santo, Hosea Nevu, he came over and joined us."

Joe Natuman said that although he was now out of parliament, he continued to support Vanuatu's current government, led by Charlot Salwai.

Mr Salwai's coalition government has now been in power for two and half years, no small achievement given the chronic political instability of Vanuatu politics since the 1990s.

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