As far as politics was concerned, 2019 was an interesting year that saw three elections, a couple of cabinet reshuffles, and the transfer of a parliamentary seat from one constituency to another. A Council of Ministers decision in September 2018 was finally gazetted in September, legalizing the transfer of a parliamentary seat from the Port Vila Constituency to the Efate Rural Constituency (G Willie 2019a). The total number of seats remained the same at 52, but the Port Vila Constituency seats decreased from 6 to 5, and the Efate Rural Constituency seats increased from 4 to 5 (G Willie 2019a). This change came into effect in January 2020 when the term of the eleventh legislature ended.
In accordance with the People’s Representation Act (Cap 146), a by-election was held on 2 September 2019 following the passing of Efate Rural Constituency mp Jerry Kanas [End Page 611] in June (Ligo and Willie 2019). Seven candidates contested the by-election, which was viewed as a prime political test for parties gearing up and eyeing parliamentary seats for the 2020 national general elections, as well as for the new political parties in the Efate Rural Constituency (Sumbe 2019). Leaders Party of Vanuatu candidate Edwin Kalorisu won, polling 1,768 of the 7,629 votes cast (rnz 2019b). The chairman of the Electoral Commission, Martin Tete, said that just over 23 percent of registered voters took part and that the poor turnout was due to a large number of prospective voters engaged in the seasonal worker schemes in Australia and New Zealand who did not apply for proxy votes.
The Luganville municipal election and the Sanma provincial elections were also held in September and December, respectively. These elections were similarly viewed as important political tests for the 2020 national general elections. No political party managed to secure a majority of the seats in both elections, so the subsequent negotiations saw Vanua‘aku Pati (vp) heading a coalition of 10 out of 18 councilors to form the Sanma Provincial Council (Malapa 2020) and Reunification Movement for Change heading a coalition of 7 out of 13 councilors to form the Luganville Municipal Council (Ligo 2019). Common political parties in both councils include Reunification Movement for Change and Vanua‘aku Pati. A total of 71 candidates contested the 13 seats available in the Luganville Municipal Council, and another 95 candidates vied for the 18 seats available in the Sanma Provincial Council. It is expected that in the 2020 general elections, more candidates will be contesting than in the previous years.
A number of reshuffles took place in 2019 as Prime Minister Charlot Salwai attempted to maintain his four-year term as prime minister of a multi-party coalition including Reunification Movement for Change, Vanua‘aku Pati, Leaders Party of Vanuatu (lpv), Graon mo Jastis Pati, National United Party, Nagriamel, Vanuatu National Development Party, and Peoples Development Services Party.
In June, Vanua‘aku Pati was ousted from government by Prime Minister Salwai and replaced with Leaders Party of Vanuatu. Vanua‘aku Pati’s request for an additional ministerial portfolio and their signature on a motion of no confidence eventually backfired. lpv President Jotham Napat was appointed as the new deputy prime minister and minister for trade, tourism, industry, and cooperatives, replacing Vanua‘aku Pati’s Bob Loughman, and Matai Seremaiah was appointed as the new minister for agriculture, livestock, forestry, fisheries, and biosecurity, replacing Vanua‘aku Pati’s Hosea Nevu (R Willie 2019).
Interestingly, the 2018 by-election in Tanna constituency—which saw mp Jimmy Nipo from Leaders Party of Vanuatu win by a large margin, replacing vp veteran mp Joe Natuman despite the government coalition’s stance to support the vp candidate— was one of the main reasons Leaders Party of Vanuatu was sacked from the Salwai coalition in late 2018 before being welcomed back in June 2019.
September saw another set of cabinet reshuffles to maintain stability. Minister for Youth and Sports Simeon [End Page 612] Seule from Reunification Movement for Change resigned and was replaced by Leaders Party of Vanuatu mp Francois Chani. mp Seule was later elected as Speaker of Parliament. National United Party’s mp for Ambrym...