Four Government MPs defect to the Opposition
Vanuatu’s Government remains in turmoil this week, with four Members of Parliament from the ruling coalition Government moving to Opposition ranks on Monday.
The four who left the Government were Gracia Shadrack, the former Speaker of Parliament and an MP for Malekula; Jack Norris Kalmet, the former Minister of Lands and Natural Resources and an MP for Efate Rural; John Still Tariqwetu, an MP for Ambae; and Fabiano Stevens, an MP for Santo Rural.
The defections followed a Friday ruling by the Supreme Court which upheld the vacating of the seats of 19 Government MPs, including the seats of Prime Minister Bob Loughman and the Deputy PM.
The former Speaker of Parliament had declared the seats vacant saying the MPs had breached parliamentary standing orders by failing to attend Parliament on three consecutive sitting days.
The Leader of Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu, welcomed the four defecting MPs at a press conference on Monday, saying he believed they had “made the right decision”.
He called on other MPs to “think of the nation’s interest, not their own and to join the Opposition”.
With the Opposition now holding 22 of the Parliament’s 52 seats, Mr Loughman’s ability to hold onto power will depend on an appeal of the Supreme Court’s decision.
One of the defectors, Mr Kalmet, said the four had left the Government to uphold the “interests of the voters” and were not amongst the 19 Government MPs whose seats had been declared vacant.
“Our status is different from the 19 members [whose seats were declared vacant],” he said.
“We moved [from the Government side] in the nation’s interest.”
Prime Minister Loughman, appeared on Television Blong Vanuatu after the court case on Friday, asking the public to “lead normal lives and let the court make its final decision”.
“I want everyone from north to south to remain calm because the fight in court hasn’t started yet,” he said.
“The Government will use every avenue to appeal this decision.”
The Government’s Public Relation Officer, Fred Vurobaravu, confirmed the Government had filed an appeal against the Supreme Court.
Mr Vurobaravu says the appeal calls on the court to rule whether or not the 19 Government MPs had failed to attend three consecutive days of a parliamentary sitting.
Mr Regenvanu says the Opposition, which has moved a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister, is waiting for the court to rule on the 19 MPs’ seats before making on its next move.
The Supreme Court’s Justice Saksak has extended a stay order on the court ruling, meaning the Parliament is able to continue to sit while the Government appeals the decision.
Justice Saksak says similar parliamentary court cases have taken place in Vanuatu in the past.
In the wake of the defections, the Prime Minister has appointed Edward Nalyal, the MP for Tafea Outer Islands, as the new Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, replacing Mr Kalmet.
The Government’s Public Relation Officer, Fred Vurobaravu, says allegations have been made that Mr Kalmet had been attending Opposition meetings without informing the Government.