2008 was an active year in politics for Vanuatu on a number of levels. Vanuatu national elections were held in September, followed in December by provincial council elections in Penama, Malampa, Shefa, and Tafea, which served to consolidate the power gained by various parties in the national elections. Municipalities, which have been the subject of various allegations of mismanagement over the past few years, continued to be controversial. The country also had to deal with significant governance issues relating to rising crime levels and difficulties in controlling prisoners. Issues of economic policy also created challenges with Vanuatu’s financial services sector coming under increasing pressure, the rising cost of living being felt quite strongly, and a proposed increase to employment conditions creating uncertainty within the private sector.
Ham Lini’s National United Party (nup)–led coalition had taken over in December 2004, following a successful vote of no confidence against the government coalition led by Serge Vohor’s Union of Moderate Parties (ump), which had been elected only five months earlier. Although several reshuffles took place in the intervening years, Lini’s ability to survive to the end of Parliament’s four-year term was remarkable. The previous decade had seen regular votes of no confidence and numerous threats of such votes leading to nine different coalition governments and two snap elections. Lini was able to stay in power mainly because he refused to take action (ie, hold accountable politicians who were members of the coalition accused of mismanagement, corruption, or misbehavior) or make decisions that could jeopardize the coalition. Maintaining political stability was his prime objective.
In the lead-up to the national election on 2 September 2008, some of the loudest voices were urging the public to vote for change—to elect a new, younger group of politicians as the best way to bring about the transformation of Vanuatu politics. As is usually the case in Vanuatu, voter turnout was high —70.4 percent of registered voters cast their ballots. Considering the fact that voting is not compulsory, the regularly high turnout indicates that democratic practices [End Page 467] have taken root in Vanuatu, although all is not perfect. In several constituencies there were accusations of bribery, which unfortunately has also become standard in Vanuatu elections. A total of seven successful candidates had their elections overturned by the courts, leading to by-elections on Epi, Tanna, and Efate. There was also confusion with regard to electoral rolls, including reported cases of voters’ names not having been recorded. However, overall, the voting went off smoothly.
Counting of votes for Vanuatu’s fifty-two members of Parliament proceeded quickly, with unofficial results for most constituencies available within several days. Early results in the Port Vila constituency showing almost certain victory for independent candidate Ralph Regenvanu seemed to indicate that the voters had indeed had inaf (“enough” in Bislama, the local pidgin), as proclaimed on Regenvanu’s campaign t-shirts. He went on to win with the largest number of votes (1,710) received by any candidate in the electoral history of Vanuatu—10.8 percent of the votes in the Port Vila constituency. Although two longserving members of Parliament were defeated—Barak Sope, leader of the Melanesian Progressive Party (mpp), representing Efate, and Willie Jimmy (nup), representing Port Vila—it was soon clear that instead of the wholesale ousting of the old guard as trumpeted by the candidates who had campaigned for change, the result of the voting was just the opposite. A total of thirty sitting members of Parliament (58 percent) were returned—the highest number ever in an election.
Only two women were elected from among the seventeen who contested the election. However, one from the island of Epi lost her seat in a court challenge in which she was accused of treating (extending favorable treatment to someone) and a male was returned in a by-election later in the year.
In addition to the problem of differentiating between the custom practice of rewarding one’s supporters and outright bribery, the results of the election revealed that several disturbing trends from past elections continued or worsened. Most significant was the ever-increasing number...