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Vanuatu’s parliament dissolved

Wednesday 25 November 2015 | Published in Regional

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Vanuatu’s parliament dissolved
Vanuatu's President Baldwin Lonsdale has dissolved the country's parliament in an attempt to resolve an impasse after the conviction of 14 government MPs for bribery. AFP

PORT VILA – Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale has dissolved the country’s parliament and called a snap election.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Father Lonsdale said his decision was in the best interests of Vanuatu.

The president has annulled parliament in an attempt to resolve an impasse after the conviction of 14 government MPs for bribery.

The 14 MPs lost their appeals against both their convictions and jail sentences last week, and as convicted criminals – facing three to four years behind bars – they were forced to vacate their seats.

The convictions meant Vanuatu’s opposition, led by Ham Lini, controlled two-thirds of parliament.

President Lonsdale has called a snap election and dissolved the parliament, citing the inability of the prime minister and opposition to form a government of national unity.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Father Lonsdale said his decision was the best option for Vanuatu as a last resort.

“As I said in my address, dissolution was always going to be a last resort, to restore the integrity of our nation and safe guard our nation, our country. So that our country won’t have to continue going through this political instability.”

The country’s prime minister, Sato Kilman – with his government in tatters – had earlier urged Lonsdale to dissolve the parliament, but the opposition was urging for parliament to be recalled so they could form a new government of national unity.

The parliament has only sat once this year, a fact that has been criticised by opposition MPs.

“Rather than leave a rather combative situation, in which case the parties would be left to duke it out, I think Mr Lonsdale felt it best for the country to wipe the slate clean,” said Dan McGarry, a journalist with the Vanuatu Daily Post.

A court in Vanuatu dismissed the appeals of the 14 MPs against their jail sentences on Friday.

They had earlier been pardoned by the parliament’s speaker Marcellino Pipite – one of MPs convicted of bribery – who believed he had the right to do so in the nation’s nest interest while he stepped in as acting president while the head of state was overseas.

An angry Lonsdale later revoked the pardons, a decision the court upheld.

Among those convicted – and now in jail for four years – is Moana Carcasses, the former deputy prime minister in Kilman’s government, who is alleged to have made cash payments to his fellow parliamentarians last year while in opposition.

Father Lonsdale said he had given the two sides enough time to come up with a solution and it was in the best interests of the people of Vanuatu that parliament be dissolved.

Under the constitution, a snap election will be held on a date to be set by the Electoral Commission some time within the next two months.

The Constitution states an election must be called no earlier than 30 days and within 60 days of the dissolution date.

- PNC sources