Vanuatu President Nikenike Vurobaravu has signed the proposed Constitutional amendments (Articles 17A and 17B) for the upcoming national referendum.

This was confirmed by the Office of the President after Port Vila Member of Parliament (MP), Justin Ngwele, commented that the signing of these articles implies their immediate enforcement as law.

However, according to the Principal Private Secretary to the Head of State, Clarence Marae, these articles cannot take effect as law until a referendum approves them.

He pointed out the constitutional mandate requiring such amendments to undergo a referendum, emphasising the necessity for majority public support.

Commenting on past precedents, Marae mentioned similar cases where legal challenges arose due to bypassing referendums.

He acknowledged the significance of adhering to constitutional procedures to validate legislative changes.

Further insight was provided by Minister of Climate Change, Ralph Regenvanu, recalling the failed enactment of similar amendments in 2004.

Despite parliamentary approval and presidential endorsement, these amendments remained ineffective without referendum endorsement.

Regenvanu noted the important role of referendums in legitimising constitutional amendments.

He said that without popular support, the signed articles risk remaining unenforceable, echoing the lessons learned from the 2004 constitutional amendment situation.

Meanwhile, the Minister responsible for elections, Johnny Koanapo, is urging every Ni-Vanuatu residing in New Caledonia to take part in the upcoming vote for the national referendum on 29 May.

He highlighted that the current situation in New Caledonia presents exceptional circumstances that could impact people’s participation on polling day, May 29, 2024 but the recent amendments to the referendum act, which the parliament passed during its first ordinary session last Thursday, address any special circumstances that may arise during the polling day.

The amendment to the referendum act states, “The Electoral Commission may, on the advice of the Principal Electoral Officer, extend the timing and date of voting in specified polling stations if the Electoral Commission is satisfied that there are special circumstances in those locations.”

Koanapo said the Vanuatu Electoral Commission will collaborate with the government of New Caledonia through the Vanuatu consulate general in Noumea to ensure that Vanuatu citizens residing in New Caledonia can participate in the upcoming national referendum.

“We want to make sure that all Vanuatu citizens living in New Caledonia can exercise their rights and participate in this national referendum,” he said.