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  • Vanuatu
  • Anita Jowitt (bio)

National politics in Vanuatu in 2004 were again dominated by personalities rather than policies, with a number of changes of government throughout the year as personal alliances shifted. In November 2003 there had been a change of government, from a coalition between the Vanua'aku Pati ( VP ) and the United Moderate Party ( UMP ) to a coalition between VP, the National United Party ( NUP ), and the Alliance for the Development of Vanuatu ( ADV )—which was itself a coalition made up of the Green Party, the Vanuatu Republic Party ( VRP ), and others. Then Prime Minister Edward Natapei had instigated the change in coalition to avoid a vote of no confidence, although as 2003 drew to a close, rumors of such a vote showed little sign of abating.

Early in the New Year, a reconciliation ceremony between NUP, UMP, and the Melanesian Progressive Party ( MPP ) was held ( VDP, 3 Jan 2004). This strengthened rumors of a no-confidence motion, as a coalition of these three parties would have had sufficient numbers to carry such a motion. By the middle of January, Natapei was denying a counter-rumor that he was considering a further cabinet reshuffle in order to avoid a no-confidence motion ( VDP, 15 Jan 2004). The fragility of the government became even more apparent when the ADV threatened to withdraw support from Natapei unless ADV members were given more portfolios and more places on various statutory boards ( VDP, 24 Jan 2004). The prime minister's office initially refused to bow to [End Page 456] the pressure, saying that the demands of the ADV were not in accordance with the memorandum of understanding that had led to the change ofcoalition in November 2003. However, on 19 February—two days after ADV had presented Natapei with an ultimatum to reshuffle the cabinet or face a vote of no confidence—the cabinet reshuffle went ahead ( VDP, 20 Feb 2004).

In the reshuffle, ADV President Maxime Carlot Korman replaced SatoKilman of the Peoples Progressive Party ( PPP ) as minister of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. In addition Joe Natuman ( VP ) lost his position as minister of internal affairs to George Wells, another VP member; and Jackleen Reuben Titek ( VP ) lost his position as minister of lands to John Morsen Willie (also VP ). Donald Kalpokas immediately resigned his position as minister of education in protest over the reshuffle ( VDP, 21 Feb 2004). Minister for Finance Sela Molisa followed Kalpokas in resigning a fortnight later ( VDP, 9 March 2004). These changes within the cabinet provided public confirmation of divisions within the VP leadership that had been simmering for some time.

Divisions within VP became more apparent at the VP congress held at Lingarak in October 2003. Voting on the VP executive split the party. On one side was the "old guard," which included Molisa, Kalpokas, Natuman, and Titek. On the other were the supporters of Edward Natapei. At the Lingarak congress, a motion to oust the old executive was passed, but VP Honorary President Kalpokas then declared the vote invalid due to irregularities. This matter could not be resolved at Lingarak so tensions between the factions continued, and VP was left without a clear executive. Kalpokas claimed the tensions started in 1999, with new people joining VP: This "'new blood' with new ideas . . . sought to makes changes in the party work ethic and the custom and tradition of the VP through short cuts" ( PVPO, 5 July 2004 ; see also PVPO, 13 March 2004). Others saw the tensions as arising from the old guard being unwilling to pass on the power that they have held for so long.

Following the reshuffle of February and resignation of Kalpokas, VP subcommittees on Tanna began to call for Natapei's resignation ( VDP, 24 Feb 2004). Splits between different subcommittees in Port Vila also became apparent ( VDP, 3 March 2004). There was some hope that tension in VP would ease after a meeting and public ceremony by Natapei and Kalpokas, during which they agreed to refer to court the matter of the election of the VP executive ( VDP, 6 March 2004). This heralded the start of protracted legal maneuverings. The first move was an interim application by the Kalpokas camp...