Vanuatu’s snap elections which were supposed to provide relief and political stability to the nation have created more uncertainty.
As none of the parties have enough votes to form a majority, the question is whether they have the maturity to work together and form a coalition government.
Making matters more interesting, is that four of the five former prime ministers that contested the election have won a seat (unofficially at this stage) and all want to be the prime minister.
Vanuatu’s Electoral Commission is being widely criticised for not having official results yet, meaning that discussions regarding the formation of a coalition is being done on unofficial results. Ballot boxes from two large constituencies arrived on Port Vila only on Sunday evening.
Commission chairman Edward Kaltamat said even before they can confirm actual votes, they are sure there was low voter turnout.
“With how the snap election came to be, the electoral office, candidates and voters were not ready,” Mr Kaltamat said. “Many living abroad had to rush to fill in proxy applications.”
To campaign in such a short window, politicians turned to social media sites TikTok and Facebook to get their message across.
Australia lent a military plane, two helicopters and a sea vessel to transport ballot papers and these have been instrumental in transporting ballot boxes and officials to polling venues.
“Judging from past elections, turnout is very low which is a disregard for how costly an election is,” said Mr Kaltamat.
“The current snap elections have disrupted the electoral cycle,” he said.
Mr Kaltamat admitted that his office was struggling to deal with election activities. A Pacific Advocate correspondent said talks have started among the parties even before results have been officially finalised and there is expected to be a real power struggle as the former prime ministers battle to take on the leadership of the country.
Former opposition member Ralph Regenvanu is being seen by many as an outsider to take the role and he is favourite among the public, but this will depend on talks between the political parties.
Sources from the former government and former opposition members have revealed that leaders of political parties who have won seats in parliament following unofficial results have begun negotiations for the formation of a new government.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Islands Forum’s Observer Group have returned and are working on a report. The report will go to the newly formed government first then it will be made public.
New leader likely for Vanuatu – 15 October 2022
The man whose decisions led to a snap election in Vanuatu is in danger of not returning to parliament as early results from the ground show that Bob Loughman is not doing well in his constituency, while the nation could have a female member of parliament after 14 years.
The snap election was called after Mr Loughman advised the head of state Nikenike Vurobaravu to dissolve the parliament because there was so-called “political instability” in the nation.
The instability he referred to was 27 members of parliament wanting to stage a vote of no confidence in his leadership. Mr Loughman called for the dissolution of parliament hoping to escape the vote and come back to lead the nation again through the snap elections.
According to initial results, 25 of the former members of parliament may have retained their seats. A special correspondent said voters have cast their votes and most of them want a government which is transparent.
“I spoke to the elderly, the youth and many women who questioned why the snap election was needed in the first place. Most Ni-Vanuatu want stability and transparency from their government,” she said.
“The nation has had a history of going to snap elections and many voters don’t want this as well. They want a government who will work for the economic and social betterment of the nation.”
Former prime minister Sato Kilman is said to have gathered a high count in his constituency and could return to the House after an exodus of six years. He is one of the five former prime ministers contesting the election.
There are reports of a female candidate having won her constituency signalling the return of women into parliament. Former Speaker of Parliament, Simeon Seule, and John Nil Roy won their seats for the Epi constituency.
For the Port Vila constituency, the four heavyweights secured their spots. These include former Leader of Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu, Anthony Iauko, caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau and Ulrich Sumptoh.
According to the Vanuatu Electoral Office, voting took place without any major hiccups however some voters were turned away from polling sites because they had not brought their identity cards with them.
The elections took place on October 13 with the Elections Office utilising land, air and sea to get ballot boxes and personnel to voting stations.
The election is being observed by a Pacific Islands Forum election observer team comprising of Cook Islands Election official Veronica Papatua, Pacific Civil Society representative Louchrisha Hussain, chief executive officer of the Pacific Citizens Constitutional Forum, and PIFs Adviser, Teanuanua Nicole.
There are 219 candidates from a range of parties and independent backgrounds contesting 52 seats to the Vanuatu Parliament. Eight of the candidates are women.
Dead people to vote in Vanuatu election – 11 October 2022
Vanuatu is heading into a snap election this week as a result of its parliament getting dissolved in August, however the validity of the election is under question because the country’s voter election role is in disarray.
Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Edward Kaltamat admitted the current voter roll is out of date, and does not have names of voters who have become eligible to vote in the time frame between the snap elections and the last general elections.
In what is even more startling, he revealed that there were names of people on the roll who were deceased and that this cannot be updated because death certificates were never presented.
According to Vanuatu’s National Statistic Office, a population census taken last year showed the nation’s total population to be 309,000 while the voter roll showed total registered voters at 278,957.
Given that minors below the voting age make up a significant percentage of the population it is clear that there are far too many registered voters.
In an attempt to justify the huge discrepancy, Mr Kaltamat said that the number of Ni-Vanuatu living abroad has not been factored into the census along with those who were out of Vanuatu when the census was taken.
He said that there were a number of dead people on the voter roll, revealing that many are still on the roll from the 1980s because the Commission was not provided with death certificates. He also said there have been a duplication of names on the roll.
According to the Electoral Commission, voters will be using identification cards to verify who they are and this will provide a good system for voting.
The Commission agreed that there was room for electoral fraud and the right to vote was not being accorded to everyone.
Mr Kaltamat said because this was a snap election, nothing has been done to improve the voter roll but this is one area the Commission would focus on before the next elections.
Unlike its Melanesian neighbour Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu’s elections are peaceful but voter turnout seems to be a concern. In 2016, voter turnout was just 56 per cent and in 2020 it was 52 per cent.
According to the Commission, this is also an indicator that a voter registration drive must be done and a system adopted that would allow them to work in synergy with the Births and Deaths Registrars Office.
Members of Vanuatu’s community are eagerly awaiting the election given the recent unstable political environment. A Pacific Advocate correspondent from Vanuatu said people wanted to see a new government in place.
The parliament was dissolved after the Council of Ministers advised the president to do so on the recommendation of the prime minister Bob Loughman.
Prior to this decision being given, 27 members of Vanuatu’s 52 member parliament had called for a motion of no confidence against Mr Loughman. He only escaped this by boycotting parliament and then seeking dissolution of a parliament.
Once the parliament was dissolved, snap elections had to be called within 60 days. Attempts to get the dissolution reversed by the Supreme Court in Vanuatu was not successful leading to the general election.