‘Don’t dissolve Parliament’: Vanuatu Opposition


The 27 Members of Parliament (MPs) who are signatories to both a request for Parliament to meet in extraordinary session and a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister, have asked the President of Vanuatu, Nikenike Vurobaravu, not to dissolve the Parliament.

In their letter dated 14 August, 2022, the MPs urged the President not to dissolve the Parliament, following the request of the Council of Ministers (COM) to do so.

Instead, they requested that President Vurobaravu allow the democratic process which is a defining feature and fundamental pillar of Vanuatu as a young nation to operate as intended by the framers of the national Constitution.

On Monday 08 August, the majority of the MPs (27 out of a Parliament currently consisting of 51 members) submitted a request for an Extraordinary Session of Parliament to the Speaker, along with a Motion of No Confidence in the Prime Minister also signed by 27 Members.

The office of the Speaker of Parliament deemed the request for an Extraordinary Session of Parliament to be in compliance with the requirements of Article 21(2) of the Constitution and the Standing Orders of Parliament, and summoned the Parliament to meet accordingly.

The MPs made their plea after they became aware that the COM had made a decision to request the President to dissolve parliament.

This request is being made under Article 28(3) of the Constitution, which states: “The President of the Republic may, on the advice of the Council of Ministers, dissolve Parliament”.

“With the greatest humility and respect, we would like to submit to you that it would be entirely against the spirit of the Constitution and the fundamental principles of our nascent Westminster parliamentary democracy for the Council of Minister’s request to be entertained,” the MPs stated.

“Firstly, the Council of Ministers is acting on behalf of a minority of Members of Parliament.
“The Council itself represents a minority Government. …The Executive’s decision to request a dissolution of Parliament therefore does not have the support of the Legislature.

“Secondly, Parliament has already been summoned to debate the motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister. A constitutional process is already underway which will test the legitimacy of the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers, and the request by the Council of Ministers therefore represents a fundamental conflict of interest on their part.”

In this regard, the MPs reminisced that there is a precedent for this current situation from the early years. “In August 1991, Parliament had already been summoned to debate a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Lini,” they stated.

“Despite this, Lini’s Council of Ministers requested President Timakata to dissolve Parliament. President Timakata refused to do so on the grounds that the dissolution was already a contested issue before parliament and he was of the opinion — and we quote — that ‘because the business which is before Parliament should rightfully be decided by it . . . [he therefore] decided not to exercise my constitutional power to dissolve Parliament at this time’ (pages 114-15 in Howard Van Trease’s “Melanesian Politics: Stael Blong Vanuatu”. Timakata’s actual words are quoted here).

Thirdly, the MPs said there are no public or national interest grounds or reasons for Parliament to be dissolved at this time.

“We are just over halfway through the 12th Legislature and Parliament still has at least 18 months to go to complete its 4-year mandate,” they said.

“There are valid reasons why the Prime Minister has lost the confidence of the majority of the members of Parliament, and five of them are listed in the motion already before Parliament.

“In terms of cost, a change of Prime Minister and the executive is far cheaper than a general election; the main financial cost of a change of government are gratuities for the office-bearers (Prime Minister, Ministers, political appointees) and these are all already included in this year’s budget as they are calculated and paid pro rata. The cost of a new general election is not, however, included in the budget.”

Previously in a press conference on Monday this week, Prime Minister Bob Loughman had announced that the government saw it fit to ask for a dissolution and not allow political instability to drain out the country’s budget.

He cited the huge spending in efforts to tackle the challenges brought about by COVID-19 and natural disasters.