14 Dec: On November 30th a motion of no confidence against the prime minister, Charlot Salwai, submitted by the opposition coalition, was defeated by a vote of 31 to 19 in Vanuatu’s 52-member parliament, leaving Salwai in power.
The motion was defeated when the rebel government backbenchers who had signed the petition took their places with the ruling coalition (the Pele Group) at the opening of the debate; one member of parliament (MP) who had signed the petition claimed a lack of understanding about the consequences of his signature. The opposition subsequently alleged that Mr Salwai had persuaded the rebellious backbenchers to return to the government with ministerial positions or other incentives, which would be in contravention of the leadership code.
The opposition have threatened to file a further motion of no confidence in Mr Salwai, but moves by the ruling coalition to calm its backbenchers should ensure its survival in such an instance. However, should the opposition instigate criminal proceedings and irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing come to light, Mr Salwai’s reputation, which has been built on combating corruption and political instability, would not only be compromised but would also probably lead to the end of the current government.
In addition, of at least equal concern to the government is the resignation of the opposition members of the Constitutional Reform Committee, which is tasked with overseeing changes to the Supreme Law. The prospective changes include political stability-minded reforms spearheaded by Mr Salwai aimed at reducing the frequency of no-confidence motions and increasing the majority needed to approve a motion to dissolve parliament. The leader of the opposition, Ishmael Kalsakau, has cited the government’s lack of public consultation as a major reason for the resignations. But, regardless of the motivations, the move in effect blocks the government’s key reforms. Should the opposition also decide to block government bills, a consequent period of political deadlock could incite a government backbench rebellion and the fall of Mr Salwai’s government.
Impact on the forecast
We expect Mr Salwai’s position to become more precarious as the opposition engage in strategies to bring about political deadlock and erode the prime minister’s authority. Political instability will remain high in 2017–18 and Mr Salwai’s removal from office cannot be ruled out.