Monday, January 11, 2016

Vanuatu 2015

Vanuatu is a small nation in the Pacific Ocean, with a population of 200,000-300,000. Like most nations in the region, it is spread across various islands, and is ethnically varied. In recent years, it has suffered from a variety of natural disasters, which has left it relatively poor.

The islands were first discovered by the Portuguese, who thought it was Australia. Finding out that it was smaller than they expected, they left. It was rediscovered in 1768 by Louis Bougainville (a French explorer), and was also visited by James Cook in 1774, who named it the New Hebrides (the old Hebrides being cold and damp Scottish islands). These two explorers represented the two conflicting interests on the island.

The islands attracted colonists from both countries, because of its fertile land which was suitable for growing a wide variety of crops. With increasing population, however, came increasing conflict between the two countries. In 1907, the British and French finally agreed to form a joint government, called a Condominium. This formalised the arrangements of having two separate government systems, with both government systems being overseen by appointed Commissioners: one commissioner coming from the French, and one from the British. No legislative body was established.

It took until 1957 for an Advisory Council to be established, which would be comprised of 16 members. There would be four appointed members from each ethnic group (four French, four British and four indigenous). The Treasurer and Commissioner of Public Works (one French, one British) would also sit on this council, as well as both Commissioners. This Council had purely an advisory role, and did not sit especially often.

In 1964, a number of changes were made to the second Advisory Council. Four of the indigenous members were elected by Local Councils (I cannot tell whether these were elected or not), and four of the European members were elected by the Chamber of Commerce. The 1969 Advisory Council was elected in a similar manner, but with four extra indigenous members.

Controversies over European usage of land led to increases in nationalist sentiment amongst the indigenous population. Both colonial partners therefore made steps towards making the islands independent, though the British were more enthusiastic about independence than the French. A pro-independence party, called the New Hebrides National Party, was formed, and led sometimes violent protests against the Condominium. It was viewed as having more pro-British views.

The French were still antagonistic to movements for greater autonomy. However, the election of
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, considered a liberal, as President of France, as well as the formation of Francophone political parties in favour of autonomy, eventually led to the French agreeing to the establishment of a directly elected Representative Assembly with 'new powers'; however, at the meeting of ministers in late 1974 that agreed to this, a statement was issued saying that "there was no indication of the New Hebrides becoming independent yet".

The electoral system for this assembly was a topic for much debate. There were two Francophone parties, but only one Anglophone party. This meant that under a single-member (or, indeed, multi-member) plurality system, the Anglophone party would be advantaged, as the Francophone vote would be split.

As a result, the single non-transferable vote was adopted, with a district magnitude between one and six (although it appears that special arrangements applied in the Port Vila and Santo districts; see below). This appears to be more out of ignorance of proportional alternatives and a desire for simplicity (single non-transferable vote is more of an East Asian electoral system, and is not used in either Britain or France) than out of a desire to place the traditions of the colonial powers into the political system. 

One concession to French tradition (although, as before, this appears to be more out of a desire for simplicity) was the usage of a ballot and envelope system, where voters receive a ballot for each candidate (which was printed with party names, symbols and a photograph of the candidate), place one in an envelope, and put that envelope in the ballot box.

Other than the 29 directly elected members, there would be six members elected from the Chamber of Commerce, three members from indigenous co-operative societies, and four tribal chiefs. While there was no ethnic voting in most districts, the urban districts of Port Vila and Luganville had ethnic quotas (2 each for the British, French and indigenous in Port Vila and one for each group in Luganville) and for a vote to be formal, it had to be cast for one candidate in each ethnic group.

This would violate the principle of SNTV, but I don't know if those principles were kept. Indeed, judging by the vaguely reported results from the Luganville council election (18-1 seat win for an anti-National alliance off slightly more than 50%, with only one district), I would suspect this is a case of multiple non-transferable vote, and that voters had as many votes as there were seats to be filled.

Elections to the Representative Assembly took place in November 1975, and were staggered over the month. The final result of the directly elected districts was seventeen for the National Party, ten for the francophone conservative Union of Communities of the New Hebrides (UCNH) and two for the alliance of Nagriamel, a traditionalist party based on the island of Espiritu Santo and the Movement for the Autonomies of the New Hebrides (MANH), another Francophone conservative party.

With a substantial number of co-operative and chief members supporting the National Party, it looked likely that the Nationals would win a majority. However, the loss of a seat in a by-election caused by the annulment of an election meant that they did not have a majority. Election arrangements for the Representative Assembly were chaotic, and a number of members could not be elected.

Pro-independence sentiment gained steam, and in 1977, it was agreed that independence had to happen. A referendum on the subject was scheduled for 1980, with independence to follow directly after.  The elections of the year were boycotted by the Vanua'aku Party (the renamed Nationals), and the Francophone conservative parties won all of the seats unopposed.

Nonetheless, independence was prepared for, and a Constitution needed to be drawn up. This constitution established a parliamentary system of government, with a unicameral parliament. The Parliament would have a four-year term, but could be dissolved by the President on advice of the Cabinet or by majority vote of parliament.

The President of the nation would hold a mostly ceremonial role, as executive power was formally vested in the Prime Minister and Cabinet. He or she would be elected by an electoral college comprised of the Parliament and the leaders of the local council. The Prime Minister would be elected by Parliament, and he or she would be able to appoint ministers. No-confidence motions were not constructive. Amendment of the Constitution would require a two-thirds vote of parliament, except changes to the electoral, parliamentary and language systems.

Following the adoption of the Constitution (although it would not be in place until independence in 1980), an election was held to what would be the Parliament after independence. The result was a decisive win for the VP, which won 62.3% of the vote and 26 of 39 seats. The Moderate party won 10.9% and 5 seats, the Federal Party won 7.1% and two seats, and independents won 8.1% and two seats. Other seats, along with the named parties, were won by parties mostly opposed to the VP. However, the VP won a majority, and seems to have been able to declare independence without a referendum.

Independence did not go entirely smoothly, however. Francophones and supporters of the Moderate Party attempted to secede from the new Republic of Vanuatu, while the Nagriamel movement, with the support of the libertarian Phoenix Foundation and the Francophone political parties on the island, declared indepedence for the island of Santo. These rebellions were quashed by Papua New Guinean troops, though.

With independence approved, George Sokomanu, a VP member, was elected President. The office of Prime Minister, where most of the power was concentrated, was taken by Walter Lini, another VP member. The VP, however, was not especially unified; during this first parliament, a number of ministers were sacked from their positions. In fact, three members of the VP, including two former ministers, resigned from the party out of dissatisfaction with Lini's leadership, though this party's support was still relatively weak (it only won 5.6% in a Luganville by-election in 1982). Indeed, the opposition was even weaker, and some of its MPs were ineligible to attend parliamentary sittings.

The first elections under independence took place in November 1983. The Independent Alliance teamed up with the Union of Moderate Parties, the conservative Francophone group (UMP) in some manner, but to no avail. The VP won 24 seats to 12 for the UMP, and one seat each for three minor moderate parties. As is important under a SNTV system, the VP were very effective at dividing their vote, and they only missed out on one seat due to poor vote division. Lini was re-elected as Prime Minister.

The next election took place in 1987. These were considered to be a more competitive election, following leadership  in the VP caused by Prime Minister Lini having a stroke in that year. The nation's economy was performing poorly, too, with GDP contracting by 2.9% in that year and inflation reaching 16.4%. While a number of other parties contested the election, including the National Democratic Party (which was a split from the VP) it was considered to be a two-party contest between the VP and UMP.

During the campaign, the UMP attacked what they said was a failure of the VP to combat the recession, while the VP attacked alleged connections between the French government and the UMP. The result was a significant loss for the VP. While they did win 25 seats, which is a gain of one on paper, Parliament's size had increased by seven, meaning that their share of seats went down from 61% to 54%. This left the government with a two-seat majority. The UMP won 19 seats, a gain of seven. This presented them as a serious opposition to the government.

Their election victory, however, was not the end of the VP's woes. Prime Minister Lini was weakened by his stroke, and party secretary-general Barak Sope decided to challenge him for the party leadership. A party congress in December 1987 re-elected Lini party leader 59-29 against Sope. In an attempt to mend fences, Sope was given a cabinet portfolio.

In an attempt to reduce Sope's power, the government abolished the urban land management authority which gave Sope substantial influence. This led to substantial riots against the decision from landowners, in May 1988, which led to Sope being sacked from the cabinet by Lini.

In July 1988, Prime Minister Lini requested that the Speaker sack Sope and four other members of Parliament who supported him. Under Vanuatu law, MPs can be sacked if they leave their parties. Lini claimed that the five were expelled from the VP, and were thus eligible to be sacked. Four days later, after the UMP MPs had boycotted Parliament, Lini also asked the Speaker to remove them from Parliament, under legislation that allows MPs that stay away from their seats for three or more days to be sacked. This left only Lini's VP MPs left in Parliament, after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal against the decision made by the sacked MPs.

Lini, in an attempt to fill the seats, called by-elections for December 12 of that year. However, in October, his plans were somewhat derailed by an appeals court reinstating Sope and his four supporters as members of Parliament. However, shortly after, the five formally resigned. They had joined a new political party, led by Sope, called the Melanisian Progressive Party (MPP).

The by-elections went ahead, though, with the MPP and UMP boycotting. In the end, the VP won most of the seats, some unopposed, thus placing them in a massively dominant position in the new Parliament.

December 16, however, saw a surprising intervention by President Sokomanu, who announced that he would dissolve the parliament, swear in an interim government led by Sope and UMP leader Maxime Carlot, and hold elections in February. Lini reacted quickly: he sought a judgement from the Supreme Court, which declared Sokomanu's actions to be unconstitutional. Members of the interim government, as well as president Sokomanu, appeared before the courts on charges of administering unlawful oaths.

Various members of the interim government were arrested, and trialled on charges of sedition. The President himself was removed by the Electoral College on January 12. He was replaced by Fred Timikata, Lini's Minister for Health, who won 41 out of 42 votes. Now ex-president Sokomanu was placed on trial, and sentenced to six years in prison, while Sope and Carlot received five years each. The VP were now in a dominant position, and Lini was head of the party.

However, Lini himself was not too dominant. He dismissed his Health Minister, Donald Kalpokas, who promptly left the government and led a no-confidence motion against him. Kalpokas became Prime Minister, but at the cost of Lini forming a new party, the National United Party (NUP) with the support of 20 VP MPs.

The election saw three factions of the VP contesting: the actual party, under the leadership of PM Kalpokas, the NUP, under the leadership of Lini, and the MPP, under the leadership of Sope with the support of Sokomanu. Compared to this, the UMP was unified, and it was therefore no surprise that they came first, although without a majority.

The MPP polled poorly, and worse than expected, while the UMP won the most seats by a substantial margin. The VP and NUP polled roughly equally. The substantial bonus for the UMP suggests tactical nomination, and that is also suggested by the fact that 61% of UMP candidates were successful, compared to 37% of VP candidates, 30% of UMP candidates and 17% of MPP candidates; this would suggest over-nomination on the part of the MPP.

The most interesting thing about this election is the dramatic increase in the number of parties. The best mechanism for testing this is the effective number of parties, which roughly measures how many parties there would be if all the parties were of the same size. The 1987 election had an effective number of parties in terms of seats of 2.14 and an effective number of parties in terms of votes of 2.59. This increased to 3.65 and 4.7 respectively, which represents a small but notable increase.

The coalition government formed was comprised of the UMP and NUP, with Maxime Carlot as Prime Minister and NUP member Sethy Regenvanu as deputy. The split between the two parties of 7-4 was proportional to their parliamentary support. Walter Lini did not join the cabinet, but his sister Hilda Lini joined as the Minister for Health, becoming Vanuatu's first female minister.

However, as seems to be not uncommon in Vanuatu, the NUP split, after it was thrown out of coalition. Four NUP MPs formed the new People's Democratic Party (PDP) and stayed in government (I'm sure you can start to see a pattern here).

The 1995 election resulted in another heavily divided parliament. The VP joined forces with the MPP and the Tan Union, and formed an alliance called the Unity Front. This makes Vanuatu look artificially more unified in the chart below.

Effective numbers of parties were, based on these results, 4.25 in terms of votes and 3.22 in terms of seats. However, this is misleading, as it counts the Unity Front as one party. While their vote results cannot be separated, 13 of the Unity Front seats were won by the VP, 5 by the MPP, and 2 by the Tan Union. Based on these figures, the effective number of parties in terms of seats increased to 4.36, a substantial increase.

Following the election, the Unity Front, the largest party, was unable to form government. The UMP faced factional splits, with one faction supporting coalition with the Unity Front (led by Maxime Carlot) and one faction supporting coalition with the NUP. The faction supporting a coalition with the NUP prevailed, and Serge Vohor of the UMP was sworn in as Prime Minister. However, he only served for fifty days. 

In February, a motion of no confidence was brought against Vohor's government, with the support of six UMP MPs. While the motion was delayed by a court challenge brought by Vohor and a boycott of Parliament by UMP and NUP MPs, on February 12, Vohor resigned as Prime Minister. Then followed a number of controversial events. The next day, the President signed a decree dissolving Parliament, but then revoked the decree and attempted to hide it.

The next session of parliament saw a violent argument, when health minister Hilda Lini strongly protested the installation of the oldest MP (the leader of the UMP dissident group) as Speaker. She was forcefully dragged from the chamber, the oldest MP was sat as Speaker. Carlot was elected as Prime Minister, but Vohor lodged a judgement against the proposal. On the first of March, the judgement was rejected and Carlot entered government in coalition with the Unity Party.

The UMP were still heavily split, though, and the government faced a myriad of problems. The UMP were split, and a scandal regarding an Australian businessman led to the government collapsing in September, and Vohor was re-elected as Prime Minister.

Elections in 1998 saw a resurgence for the Vanuaku Party. Candidate numbers increased dramatically, too, and Carlot formed a new political party called the Republicans. This split hurt the chances of the UMP, which slipped into second place.
The effective number of parties increased to 6.32 in terms of votes and 4.26 in terms of seats (to put this into perspective, the last Dutch election was 5.94 in terms of votes and 5.7 in terms of seats). The least squares index, a measure of proportionality, was 13.8 (a relatively 

The government formed was led by former VP Prime Minister Donald Kalpokas, with the support of the NUP. Kalpokas served as Prime Minister, though with a coalition with elements of the UMP and the John Frum movement after October 1998. He resigned as Prime Minister in 1999 to avoid a confidence vote,  and was replaced by Barak Sope of the Melanesian Progressive party, leading a coalition of his party, the UMP, the NUP, the Republicans and John Frum's party.

2001 saw another change of government, when, as the result of a scandal involving a Thai businessman and the national mint, the UMP joined the opposition VP, thus giving them a majority, and put down a motion of no confidence on 26 March. The incumbent government attempted to dissolve parliament to avoid the motion, but failed. The Speaker then rejected the motion due to errors in the typing, and closed Parliament, as it was the end of the session. The Supreme Court then declared that Parliament should reconvene, and while this was delayed, on the 13th of April the no-confidence motion was passed. The government was defeated, and replaced by a VP-UMP government led by Edward Natapei.

Elections took place in 2002, on the second of May. The result was, unsurprisingly, a more fragmented parliament. The UMP returned to first place, but only narrowly. The new Green Confederation contested its first election, and won some representation.
The effective number of parties, even using Adam Carr's numbers (which, despite my eternal gratefulness to Mr Carr for providing the only vote figures for this election, do not signify non-parliamentary parties as separate, instead clumping them up with the independents) is 5.9 in terms of votes and 5 in terms of seats, while the least squares index of disproportionality was 17.63.

The coalition government formed as a result of the election was a coalition between the VP and the UMP, as before, with Natapei as Prime Minister. During the next year, former Prime Minister and MPP leader Barak Sope was jailed for two years for forgery, but was pardoned by the president and won a by-election to succeed himself.

2003 saw a change in the coalition government, when the UMP was replaced in the coalition by the Greens and the National Unity Party, because a number of UMP ministers were involved in scandals and because UMP leader Vohor had been allegedly asking opposition members about the possibility of a new government.

However, 2004 was a rather more turbulent year. Presidential elections were scheduled for that year on the 23rd of March. While the voting was initially deadlocked, the opposition got together with the government to support opposition preferred candidate Alfred Maseng. Unfortunately, it turned out after the election that Maseng was a convicted criminal, and his conviction had been missed by the Electoral Commission, though he refused to step down of his own accord. He was formally removed from office in May, and the Speaker sat in as President until August, when Kalkot Mataskelekele was elected President

In the wake of this, a motion of no confidence was put down, also in May. Natapei, not wanting to face it, asked the acting President to dissolve Parliament. This request was granted, and an election was scheduled for 6 July.

The election was notable for the factional struggles of the VP, when the faction supporting former Prime Minister Donald Kalpokas decided to contest the election as the Vanua K group. The election was also contested by the People's Action Party (PAP), another VP breakaway group. The People's Progressive Party, a centre-left group, also contested this election for the first time; this party was led by Sato Kilman, who is now Prime Minister.
At the moment, I don't have time to collate Adam Carr's constituency results into vote shares, and nationwide vote shares, so seat shares will have to do. As far as I can tell, the Vanua K group did not win any seats, though they may have rejoined the VP after the election and have not shown up on the seat counts.

The government formation process after the election was long and complicated, but in the end Serge Vohor, the UMP leader, formed government, with a broad coalition encompassing the Republicans, Independents and the MPP, However, Vohor did not last long as Prime Minister. A controversy involving Vohor establishing a diplomatic relationship with Taiwan (to be accurate, the Republic of China, which claims to be the legitimate government of all of China, despite only controlling the island of Taiwan). While Vohor viewed this as a clever idea to start an aid bidding war between the Republic and People's Republic (both countries have been accused of using 'chequebook diplomacy' to buy the support of Pacific countries), it led to a no-confidence motion in his government, which led to him being replaced as Prime Minister by NUP leader Ham Lini.

By Vanuatu's standards, Lini lasted a very long time as Prime Minister. He served until the 2008 election, which was another heavily fragmented contest. I've given up on bar graphs, by the way, and the below chart has the results of this election, only in terms of seats, as a pie graph.

As you can see, the parliament was heavily fragmented (the exact effective number of parties is 8.24), and it took same weeks to form a government. In the end, a coalition between the VP and the NUP, with some smaller parties and independents, was formed, and Edward Natapei was returned to the Prime Ministership, with a razor-thin majority of 27-25.

However, as is normal in Vanuatu, this government was hardly stable. A bewildering mix of reshuffles, confidence votes and defections eventually led to the NUP being dropped from the government and replaced by the People's Progressive Party, Greens and some other minor parties.

Natapei stayed in office until early December 2010, when after controversies regarding Vanuatu's support for West Papua , a number of members of the coalition crossed the floor. A motion of no confidence in Natapei's government passed 30-15, and PPP leader Sato Kilman was chosen as Prime Minister, in a coalition with the Greens, the NUP, the Republicans, a faction of the VP and other small parties.

With the government's thin majority, though, a no-confidence motion was eventually introduced, and passed 26-25. UMP leader Serge Vohor was elected Prime Minister. While you might think that would be the end of it, Kilman filed a motion in the Supreme Court to declare the motion void, on the basis that only 26, and not an absolute majority of 27, of the members had voted for it. The Court initially rejected the claim, but on 13 May, the appeal court found in favour of Kilman, who returned to office.

This did not end the legal wrangling around Kilman's election. Opposition leader Natapei filed a motion in the Supreme Court to have Kilman's original election as Prime Minister declared invalid. This motion was successful, and Natapei was appointed interim Prime Minister. This did him little good, and ten days later Kilman returned to office.

Kilman led Vanuatu up until the 2012 election. This election was even more fragmented than the previous one, and, while vote shares are available (collated by Wikipedia), they are too difficult to put into a chart, and so only seat figures are displayed below. It saw the conservative Land and Justice, the Union for Reunification and Change (a UMP split-off), and the Iauko Group (dissidents from the Vanuaku Party) contest for the first time, as well as a variety of other new parties.
The effective number of parties in terms of seats went up to a staggering 8.24, higher than Israel at all but one of their elections, and far higher than the Netherlands (both countries with pure party-list proportional representation with a single national district).

Following the election, Kilman remained in office, with the support of the Movement for Unification and Change, the National United Party, the Iauko Group and some other small parties. He served until 20 March 2013, when he resigned to prevent a motion of no confidence. He was replaced by Greens Confederation leader Moana Carcasses.

Carcasses' government lasted until May 2014, when he himself was defeated in a parliamentary vote by Joe Natuman, with a relatively comfortable majority. Natuman, too, did not last in the job; he was brought down by Kilman. This was a period of not just political turbulence for Vanuatu; under Natuman's leadership, Vanuatu had been hit by Cyclone Pam, which had displaced thousands and caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage, and the distribution of the aid money to rebuild was listed as a reason for the no-confidence vote against Natuman.

Kilman's government was hit by dramatic events in October 2015, when fourteen MPs, including former Prime Minister Carcasses, were convicted of bribery and were sent to prison. This meant that they lost their seats in Parliament. With Vanuatu's politics paralysed, President Baldwin Londsdale dissolved Parliament, and, with his dissolution approved by the Supreme Court, Vanuatu's election took place.


Already, media reports say that a record number of parties will contest this election (28). It is not going to be one for consolidation, and the likely result of the election will be more instability, and no party with even close to a clear majority.

But why is this? Well, the surface issue is factionalism. We have seen how the parties have split (for example, three of the new parties in the 2012 election were led by former UMP members), and how this has contributed to the transformation of Vanuatu from a two-party system to a dramatically fragmented multi-party one. 

Where does this come from, though? Well, the root issue, in my view, is the single transferable vote. This system encouraged factionalism when it was in use in Taiwan and Japan, as it encourages political clientelism (MPs are encouraged to build support networks through small sectors of the electorate), and it has clearly done the same in Vanuatu. It has failed to discourage party splits, too, as it actually rewards splits (it is much easier for a small party with 10% of the vote in a district to put up one candidate and encourage support for them than it is for a large party to split its votes between multiple candidates.).

So, why isn't it done away with? Well, that's the issue. It is a true maxim that those with power under an electoral system don't wish to change it, and those who wish to change it often don't have the power. In New Zealand, it took two wrong winners in elections and massive amounts of public support to change the electoral system. In Vanuatu, those who prosper are the small parties, and virtually all political parties in Vanuatu are small. To some extend, Vanuatu is addicted to the single non-transferable vote.

Electoral reform would be difficult indeed, and, in fact, the only talk of reform is in terms of changing to a presidential system. Perhaps this will happen if voter support is high enough. I have seen nothing suggesting that electoral reform is even discussed, and the evolutionary nature of this change means that it will probably not be much of a national political movement compared to presidentialism, which can be consolidated behind a popular figure.

If Vanuatu tells us anything, it is the importance of getting first decisions right when designing an electoral system. As avid readers will recall, the people who invented SNTV for Vanuatu (colonial officials) were not provided with any information on proportional representation systems. This decision has had, as you can see, dramatic repercussions.

Author's Note: For reasons unrelated to the election, I will be travelling to Vanuatu on the 12th and returning to Australia on the 22nd (polling day!). I will not be staying in the cities, but I hope to get in to have a look at the campaigning, and I will be in the capital of Port Vila for most of polling day (again, not on purpose; due to flight timing). Anyone interested in the matter can follow me on Twitter (all opinions my own, are left at the door when I write my blog and opinions will not come into my Vanuatu observations).

1 comment:

  1. Henry, I am astonished at the level of detail here, again! This report is long, yes, but you have such a clear and readable writing style that it's not an arduous read, despite your warnings. Thanks for all the research - an englightening read. I imagine you'll find this well-timed trip fascinating.


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