Vanuatu faces political instability as govt delays no-confidence vote

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Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, gives his remarks after addressing to delegates during a general assembly to vote on whether to ask top global court to issue opinion on climate responsibility at United Nations Headquarters in New York City, U.S., March 29, 2023. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

SYDNEY, Aug 10 (Reuters) – Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau said political instability in the Pacific Islands nation could impact investment and tourism, after his government boycotted a no-confidence vote in parliament on Thursday.

Vanuatu, at the centre of strategic rivalry between China and Western countries in the region, was plunged into political crisis after Opposition leader Bob Loughman last week lodged a no-confidence petition with 29 signatures out of 51 lawmakers – enough to topple the prime minister.

Debate on the motion was delayed until next Wednesday after 26 opposition lawmakers including the speaker arrived at parliament, and the government said this fell short of the quorum needed.

Kalsakau said in a televised press conference the move against him, eight months after a national election, was “irresponsible” and instability could impact tourism and investment.

The reasons given for removing the prime minister had “no basis”, he added.

Loughman has criticised the government for lifting the minimum wage and signing a security pact with Australia, which he says compromises Vanuatu’s “neutral” status.

China has been a major infrastructure lender to Vanuatu, donating the parliament building, stadiums and prime minister’s office, as well as constructing roads and wharves.

Loughman drew Vanuatu closer to China as the previous prime minister, until his government lost a snap national election in 2022.

The United States and its allies are seeking to deter Pacific Islands nations from establishing security ties with Beijing, after China signed a security pact with Solomon Islands.

In a bid to boost government numbers, Jotham Napat stepped down as foreign minister and deputy prime minister on Monday, allowing a cabinet reshuffle that won back two lawmakers.

Kalsakau said the constitution requires an absolute majority for the removal of a prime minister, and Loughman did not have the numbers in parliament on Thursday to debate the motion.

Loughman countered that he had the numbers to form government next week, Vanuatu Daily Post reported.

Underlining China’s strategic interest in the region, Chinese navy medical ship, Peace Ark, is visiting Vanuatu to provide medical services to the public, in the sixth visit by a Chinese navy vessel, media reported.

Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Stephen Coates

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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