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  • Vanuatu
  • Howard Van Trease (bio)

As 2010 got underway, the issue of the status of the Speaker of Parliament, Maxime Carlot Korman, held over from last year, remained to be dealt with. In late November 2009, the Vanua‘aku Pati (vp) prime minister, Edward Natapei, had removed two parties from the governing coalition—the National United Party (nup) led by Ham Lini, and the Vanuatu Republican Party (vrp) led by Korman. Natapei replaced them with the Alliance Group and its fifteen associated members of Parliament, led by Sato Kilman from the island of Malakula, leader of the People’s Progressive Party (ppp), who was made deputy prime minister (vdp, 20 Nov 2009). The position of the Union of Moderate Parties (ump) within the coalition, led by Serge Vohor, was strengthened in the reshuffle with the allocation of two additional ministerial portfolios.

In a move most likely aimed at protecting his position as Speaker, Korman declared late November that the prime minister had lost his seat because he had not obtained permission to be absent from Parliament. Natapei had left Vanuatu in November to attend an overseas meeting, which coincided with the last session of Parliament. Natapei protested that he had let the Speaker know and, on his return, had obtained a Supreme Court ruling that the Speaker’s decision was unconstitutional (vdp, 7 Dec 2009). However, Natapei found that he was also facing a no-confidence motion tabled by Ham Lini, the new leader of the Opposition. The government had hoped to remove the Speaker at the same time as Parliament voted on the motion of no confidence, which was easily defeated, but Korman was able to manipulate standing orders to avoid a vote on his own position. He remained as Speaker until January 2010, when the government called an extraordinary session of Parliament with the intention of removing him. However, rather than being voted out, he resigned. In the election that followed, the government’s nominee for Speaker, Luganville mp George Wells (nup), defeated Korman, the Opposition’s nominee, in a secret ballot by thirty-two votes to nineteen (vdp, 3 o Jan 2010),

Resolution of the issue of the Speaker concluded the process of restructuring the government coalition that had begun toward the end of November 2009, but, as the motion of no confidence indicated, the political [End Page 511] situation was not settled. At the time of the November reshuffle, Natapei also used the opportunity to remove renegade Tanna mp Harry Iauko (vp), who held the position of minister of lands (vdp, 18 Nov 2009). Iauko had been accused of corruption over land dealings and suspended as a member of the Vanua‘aku Pati since 2008 when he decided to support a no-confidence motion against Natapei. The vote for the new Speaker was significant, as it indicated that six members of Parliament from the government had joined the Opposition and voted for Korman. The Natapeiled government had a total of thirty-nine members, compared to thirteen in the Opposition. It emerged that the six government members who voted for the Opposition nominee were led by mp Harry Iauko and included two other vp members plus three independents (Independent, 30 Jan–5 Feb 2010).

The Vanua‘aku Pati’s problem with Harry Iauko goes back over a decade to when he became an active member of the party on his home island of Tanna. He identified himself with those who called for the main parties to open opportunities for younger members—something that established party leaders were usually prepared to support in principle but found difficult to put into practice. Iauko and his supporters were instrumental in electing Natapei president at the vp’s 1999 Ipota Congress on Erromango, defeating Donald Kalpokas, who was one of the founding fathers and vp president. This proved to be extremely divisive. The Natapei/Iauko faction targeted Kalpokas in the 2004 election, causing him to lose his seat. Since that time, however, the old vp stalwarts have gradually united around Natapei, leaving Iauko frustrated and vengeful. Indeed, Natapei and Iauko no longer have the close political relationship they once had.

Iauko’s ambition finally led him to run for Parliament in...