The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 463-471
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Some commentators continue to question Vanuatu's stability and wait for a collapse of order as experienced by its Melanesian neighbors. However, Vanuatu has shown a good deal of cohesiveness in a year that witnessed a number of potentially destabilizing events, including a national election, the jailing of a former prime minister for fraud, and lengthy wrangling over the appointment of the new commissioner of police. Although Vanuatu's economy has not been performing well, 2002 has largely been a success for governance.
The year began with the death of one of Vanuatu's elder statesmen, George Kaltoi Kalsakau, on 31 December 2001. Kalsakau had been one of the primary leaders in the lead-up to independence, and in 1978-1979 was the country's first chief minister after the country became a self-governing British-French colony. Vanuatu lost three other notable politicians in 2002: the prominent women's leader, Grace Mera Molisa, who died on 4 January; the second chief minister,FatherGerardLeymang, who died on 2 May; and Noel Mariasua, a respected chief who had been chair of the National Council of Chiefs, who died in October.
Natural disaster also struck early in the year, when an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale hit Port Vila. Some roads, buildings, and bridges were damaged, but overall the capital city escaped lightly scathed, with no deaths. Repair of homes and buildings continued over the year, giving a lift to the building industry. While repairs were costly, in many respects the damage from this earthquake had less human impact than the earthquake and subsequent landslides in Merelava, in the northern Torba province, in late November. Housing, water supply, cash crops, and food crops were all affected. As Merelava is an outer island, this natural disaster received little media attention. [End Page 463]
Natural disasters aside, the first potentially destabilizing event involved confusion over the date of dissolution of Parliament. The government thought that dissolution was to occur on 16 March, and in the final week was going to debate a supplementary appropriation bill to cover police underpayments of 95 million vatu. After a careful reading of the Constitution, the opposition figured that Parliament should actually dissolve on 6 March. They took their challenge to the Supreme Court and won, so Parliament was dissolved before the appropriation to pay the police could be passed. While some police were prepared to wait until after the elections for the underpayment issue to be resolved, others threatened strike action, and there were fears of inadequate security during the elections. The issue was defused at the end of March when Natapei's caretaker government, which had been installed to manage the country between the dissolution of Parliament and the election, paid the outstanding money to the police.
Once this issue was resolved the political focus turned to the elections, which were held on 2 May. The previous chair of the Electoral Commission, Charles Bice, had recommended increasing the number of seats by fifteen. However this proposal was rejected when the cost implications were realized, and the number of seats remained at fifty-two. More than 260 candidate applications were received by the Electoral Commission. Most applications were processed without difficulty, and 257 candidates were accepted to stand for election. However, among the rejected was Acting Minister of Infrastructure and Public Utilities Jacklyn Ruben Titek, whose application was dismissed because he was not officially registered on the electoral roll. Titek appealed the decision (Titek v The Electoral Commission 2002). During the court hearing it was found that Titek had never been properly registered when the electoral registration system changed in 1999. When registration officers had called at Titek's house in 2001 to check the registration, Titek had not been home. The officers stated that they would come back the next day, but never did. Titek believed his electoral card, issued in 1993, was still valid. The Supreme Court overturned the Electoral Commission's decision and allowed Titek to be registered as a candidate. This decision was based largely on the fact that the...