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Friday 8 January 2016 | Published in Regional


PORT VILA – Campaigning is officially underway in Vanuatu’s snap election set for January 22 amid confusion over the number of candidates taking part.

Parliament was dissolved and elections announced late last year after 14 of the Government’s MPs were jailed in October to serve three-to-four-year jail terms, thus losing their seats in accordance with the constitution.

More than 250 potential candidates applied to contest the election’s 52 seats, but many are yet to be approved – prevented from taking part until they repay government debts.

Parties and candidates should have settled any outstanding monies owed to the Government, or its agencies, and receipts of payment provided to the Electoral Office earlier this week.

A former MP in Vanuatu says he should have been quickly cleared to contest the election, accusing the Electoral Office of poor screening processes.

After a delay of two days, the office late last night released the official candidates list with 183 names.

However, 81 people were declared ineligible, including two current caretaker ministers, the former opposition leader, Ham Lini, and the former speaker of parliament, Philip Boedoro.

Boedoro says his name was left off because of an issue relating to a firearms licence, which he denies.

He says he is clear and should be allowed to campaign, and blames the Electoral Office for not screening candidates properly.

“I think I had done all the things that they required and I believe that there was nothing that they did not do. I think they have a problem with the screening.”

Philip Boedoro says the Electoral Office has conceded that he should be on the list.

Other candidates who did not make the list have 72 hours to appeal.

Electoral Commission chairman John Killeon Taleo told ABC’s Pacific Beat programme the full list of candidates should be revealed within three days.

“The names of some of the candidates were not accepted last night, meaning they have 72 hours to resubmit their application,” he said.

At least 10 former MPs convicted on bribery charges had applied to contest the elections that were brought on by their jailing.

Electoral Office adviser Martin Tete said his department had already removed nine of the names from the list.

He said under Vanuatu law, anyone who is serving a suspended sentence or prison term cannot contest parliamentary elections.

On October 21, Vanuatu’s deputy prime minister Moana Carcasses was sentenced to four years in jail for bribery and corruption, joining 13 other MPs – or half of the nation’s government – in being sentenced to three or more years in jail.

As one of two former prime ministers jailed in the scandal, Carcasses was found to have made cash payments amounting to 35 million vatu ($452,000) to his fellow parliamentarians last year while in opposition.

Justice Mary Sey ruled that the payments were designed to influence MPs in their capacity as public officials.

The Electoral Office has also warned parties and candidates, for a second time, of the illegality of allocations, handouts and gifts during campaigning.

Meanwhile, the funding of the snap election has been bolstered by Vanuatu’s caretaker prime minister, Sato Kilman, after he approved 10 per cent of a yet-to-be-passed budget to prevent its administration from faltering.

Acting principal electoral officer Joe Johnson Iati said the office estimated the election to cost $1 million, but it had only been allocated $880,000.

An opposition candidate is alleging misuse of government property by members of the caretaker government.

Joe Natuman, a former prime minister and leader of the Vanua’aku party, says he has seen caretaker ministers using government vehicles for their campaigning.

Natuman says state resources shouldn’t be used by remaining caretaker ministers to promote political parties and he will raise the matter with the Electoral Office.

“Caretaker ministers are only caretakers of a ministry or their office. They shouldn’t be travelling around the country using or abusing government assets to promote their political parties or their political candidates -- this is what I will be talking with the Electoral Office on.”

Joe Natuman says laws need to be passed to prevent this from happening again.

The former Solomon Islands prime minister, Sir Francis Billy Hilly, has been appointed to lead the Melanesian Spearhead Group’s observer mission for Vanuatu’s snap elections.

The mission was established at short notice following a request from Vanuatu to the MSG’s current chair, Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare.

It will be drawn from the MSG’s member states, including the FLNKS movement in New Caledonia.

Vanuatu is the second country the MSG will send an observer mission to – the first was Fiji’s elections in 2014.

The Pacific Islands Forum has also accepted an invitation from Vanuatu to send an observer group. The Forum’s acting director of political governance and security says delegates from Tonga and the Cook Islands will travel to Vanuatu next week with Forum executives.

Sione Tekiteki says the mission will monitor Vanuatu’s electoral process not only to assess compliance but also to learn from and share any lessons with other member countries.