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War of words in Vanuatu’s power struggle

Thursday 29 October 2015 | Published in Regional


PORT VILA – The Vanuatu Opposition Deputy Leader, Ham Lini, is maintaining his call for the Prime Minister Sato Kilman to step down.

Lini wants to form a “Government of National Unity” after the jailing of 14 MPs.

Kilman’s is now a minority government and he has managed to fill just nine of the 13 cabinet portfolios since the convictions.

The Kilman-led government is currently holding on to power with 14 or 15 MPs. And the opposition currently has 23 or 24 MPs – but Kilman is not ready to resign and is exploring avenues to stay in power.

A war of words is now heating up between Vanuatu’s political parties.

President Baldwin Lonsdale earlier set November 6 as the deadline for the parties to resolve the political crisis.

Lini’s statement comes a day after his opposition leader Joe Natuman repeated an earlier call for Sato Kilman to resign.

Natuman said Kilman was to blame for any constitutional crisis that emerges due to the convictions for graft of his government members.

A court has refused their application for bail while they wait for an appeal, meaning that half of Kilman’s government remains in jail.

Kilman has refused to step down, stressing that the convicted MPs have 14 days to appeal during which they remain members of parliament.

He even went as far as questioning the integrity of the country’s justice system. In his first public statement since the saga erupted earlier this month, Kilman alleged cover-ups and interference by former leaders in cases ranging from an alleged rape, a fatal car accident and mutiny in the police force.

Kilman’s office has also alleged some opposition members have admitted receiving bribes but have never been investigated.

But the opposition leader, Joe Natuman, says Kilman is unashamedly holding on to power in defiance of public opinion and international norms.

This past week, he has appointed three new MPs as cabinet ministers.

However, Natuman says the government remains a minority one and if he continues to refuse to resign then the opposition will “come up with the numbers to remove him as prime minister”.

President Lonsdale has already postponed a meeting he had earlier scheduled with Kilman and Lini to encourage the two sides to resolve the country’s constitutional challenge.

Kilman is understood to want Lonsdale to call a snap election, while Lini claims he has the numbers to form government without an election.

The Prime Minister wants opposition MPs to cross the floor to back his government. Kilman has already appointed MP Don Ken as Minister of Infrastructure – an MP that was prfeviously with the opposition bloc.

The situation is complicated by the looming hearing of the jailed MPs’ appeals.

“They have the right to appeal, however if their sentences are suspended and they are still serving the terms of their suspended sentences when the country goes to polls next year, they will not be eligible to contest,” the Vanuatu Electoral Office clarified .

The sentences handed down by the Supreme Court ranges from three to four years for the 14 MPs.

Meanwhile, the police say there are no more investigations underway into MPs over alleged bribery despite Radio Vanuatu reporting that police are starting investigations into three MPs who were allegedly given immunity from prosecution for their testimony in the recent bribery case.