“Go to Court if you are not happy”: Vanuatu Speaker

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Vanuatu Speaker of Parliament and Member of Parliament (MP), Seoule Simeon’s advice rang out amidst the lingering tension in Parliament Wednesday afternoon: “Go to Court if you are not happy.”

The backdrop was the Extraordinary Session of Parliament, an attempt to navigate the current political impasse that gripped the nation. Unfortunately, that session also failed to solve the political stalemate.

In a split that mirrored the divide within the nation’s political landscape, the Opposition found itself bolstered by the support of 26 Members of Parliament (MPs). On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Government mustered 23 MPs to stand resolutely by its side.

This numerical jousting played a pivotal role in the downfall of the Opposition’s ambitious bid to pass a motion of no-confidence against Prime Minister (PM) Ishmael Kalsakau.

Wednesday marked the second attempt by the Leader of the Opposition, Bob Loughman, to dislodge Kalsakau from his leadership role.

Despite fervently asserting his ability to muster the numbers for a successful overthrow, the day of reckoning laid bare the limitations of his influence.

As the final tally emerged, the opposition’s supposed 26 MPs, while not insignificant, fell short of constituting an absolute majority.

A show of hands turned the parliamentary floor into a visual representation of divided allegiances—26 hands raised in affirmation, 23 in dissent. However, Vanuatu’s Constitution stipulated that an absolute majority, embodying the support of 27 MPs, was indispensable for dethroning a sitting PM. Consequently, the Clerk of Parliament, Raymond Manuake, declared the motion defeated.

Drawing from legal expertise, an independent lawyer offered clarity to the Daily Post regarding the crucial concept of majority: “An absolute majority in a parliament typically refers to more than half of the total number of members. If the Constitution doesn’t specify a specific number, it would usually mean more than half of the total members present and voting,” he said.

This fundamental principle safeguarded the essence of democratic decisions, ensuring that any course of action enjoyed the backing of the prevailing majority.

“If there is a vacant seat in the parliament, the calculation for an absolute majority would still be based on the total number of seats, including the vacant one.”

Thus, even the presence of vacant seats couldn’t dilute the essence of a true majority—a majority measured against the entirety of potential representation.

Despite the turnout in chambers Wednesday, the Opposition contended that they held sway over the majority, casting PM Kalsakau into the role of a minority representative.

Amidst the verbal exchanges and tense atmosphere, Speaker Simeon advised the MPs to seek legal redress, saying, “Go to Court if you are not happy..

Meanwhile,  Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau minced no words in his response to the no-confidence motion presented by Opposition Leader Bob Loughman  branding it as “nonsense.”

Photo: Islands Business

The PM’s categorically characterised the motion as lacking substance, declaring the absence of any substantiated evidence to underpin the allegations it contained.

He mused, “I will respect you more if you come to me and say, ‘Prime Minister, it’s me again,’ as opposed to coming with something that has no basis.”

Kalsakau’s defense further extended, urging a responsible approach to the critical matters at hand.

“We may argue whether it’s alright for you to serve as Prime Minister once more,” he stated, “but please don’t bring up an unfounded accusation of corruption.”

His plea resonated with a call for concrete evidence to foster a fair judgment. He underlined the importance of submitting documents of substance and conviction to protect the nation’s credibility and to honor the people of Vanuatu.

Kalsakau reminded all present of the far-reaching ramifications of their words and actions.

“You must be aware that your unfounded accusations here have an impact on the rights of the people in this building,” he cautioned.

Post-session attempts to elicit a response from the Opposition Leader yielded silence, leaving the PM’s counterpoints unanswered. Among the allegations wielded by the Opposition was a claim that the government’s foreign relations were endangering Vanuatu’s independence and sovereignty.

“The Prime Minister’s move is a grave tendency to shifting the country away from being a neutral peaceful state to exposing and aligning our nation to unnecessary competition thus compromising our opportunities for greater development of infrastructure and economic sectors,” the Opposition stated.

“Vanuatu as an independent and sovereign nation cannot allow this form of engagement in international relations to continue.

“The Prime Minister and his Government must conduct its relations impartially and not allow our independent and sovereign nation to be sucked into a game it does not want and to be used inappropriately by competing nations to exert dominance in our region.”

In defense of his administration’s foreign policy, Kalsakau outlined the strategic imperative of attracting international investment by fostering positive engagement.

Highlighting the recent surge in international leaders visiting Vanuatu, the PM attributed this achievement to the efforts of his Foreign Affairs ministers.

“We have to be attractive, so that when others see this country Vanuatu, they will want to invest here.

“What are the results of why we have been overseas?” he questioned.

“For the last eight months, there have been more international leaders visiting Vanuatu than the last two years.

“I am proud for the former Minister and current Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Ministers who have travelled abroad to build the nation’s reputation.”

After yesterday’s motion of no-confidence, PM Kalsakau said that under the law, he still has the authority to lead the country.

“I would like to urge the public to remain calm and let Parliament complete its business, the Supreme Court also has an excellent record for resolving disputes,” he said.

SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST/PACNEWS