Vanuatu narrowly avoided a political crisis as Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Wednesday.
Vote of no confidence against PM Kalsakau was defeated as opposition failed to achieve absolute majority of 27 votes.
26 Opposition Parliamentarians voted for the removal of PM while 23 MPs from the government side voted against.
The Opposition is demanding to know how a government can rule without a majority on their side.
The putsch was led by former prime minister and now opposition leader Bob Loughman, who urged for the immediate election of a new prime minister in a no-confidence motion submitted to Parliament.
Loughman has criticised Kalsakau’s foreign policy decisions, saying in the no-confidence motion that they had undermined Vanuatu’s independence, sovereignty, and position as a non-aligned state. Guardian Australian reported that this list of grievances included a security deal Vanuatu signed with Australia in December last year.
“Prime Minister Maau’koro [Kalsakau] without the authorisation from the Council of Ministers did proceed to execute the Security Pact with a development partner,” the motion read.
Despite the motion not mentioning Australia directly, this is the only pact of its kind signed under Kalsakau’s leadership. It further stated that: “The Prime Minister and his Government must conduct its relations impartially and not allow our independent and sovereign nation to be sucked into a game it does not want and to be used inappropriately by competing nations to exert dominance in our region.”
The opposition’s grievances also include accusations that the government is exerting undue influence on state institutions and intimidating public administrators.
One of the issues made public has been a disagreement with the government over raising the nation’s minimum wage, which was lifted 36 percent in June – from 220 Vanuatu vatu per hour (US$1.81) to 300 vatu (US$2.47).
Tourism and Trade Minister Samson Samsen resigned to join the opposition bloc on Monday, in a further blow to the government.
However, despite the best efforts of the opposition, the vote failed. The no-confidence motion fell short of an absolute majority, gaining 26 votes compared to the 23 votes against.
There are 52 seats in Parliament, with one seat remaining vacant and one MP – Bruno Leingko – overseas seeking medical treatment, meaning there are currently 50 members in the country able to vote. Section (42) (2) of the nation’s constitution stipulates an absolute majority to pass a vote of no-confidence in a prime minister. This required 27 MPs to vote against Kalsakau.
In a press conference before the vote, Kalsakau labeled the move against him as “irresponsible” and that there was “no basis” for his removal. He also said that the instability created by having a no-confidence motion only eight months after an election could hinder tourism and investments in Vanuatu.
“Even though they claimed to command majority they did not make it to Parliament,” he told the Vanuatu Daily Post. He also noted that more foreign leaders had visited Vanuatu under his leadership in eight months than in the previous two years under Loughman.