57. Vanuatu (1980-present)

 

Crisis Phase (May 28, 1980-September 1, 1980):  Jimmy Stevens led a rebellion against the government on the island of Espirito Santo beginning on May 28, 1980, and he declared the formation of the provisional government on the independent state of Vemerana on June 1, 1980. Some 1,400 individuals fled the island on May 29-June 4, 1980. Some 100 British and 100 French peacekeeping troops were deployed on the island on June 15 and July 23, 1980. The Vanuatu (New Hebrides) government requested the military intervention of Papua New Guinea on July 17, 1980.  The troops were airlifted to Vanuatu by the Royal Australian Air Force. Vanuatu (New Hebrides) formally achieved its independence from Britain and France and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations (CoN) on July 30, 1980.  Sati George Sokomanu of the Vanua’aku Pati (Our Land Party) was elected president (ceremonial head of state) of Vanuatu by the Electoral College.  Some 450 Papua New Guinean and 20 Australian troops were deployed in support of the government on August 18, 1980.  British and French peacekeeping troops were withdrawn on August 19, 1980. Jimmy Stevens surrendered to Papua New Guinea troops on September 1, 1980. Three individuals were killed during the rebellion.

Post-Crisis Phase (September 2, 1980-October 11, 1996):  Parliamentary elections were held on November 2, 1983, and the Vanua’aka Pati (Our Land Party) won 24 out of 39 seats in the National Assembly. The Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) won 12 seats in the National Assembly. Prime Minister Walter Hedye Lini was re-elected by the Electoral College on November 16, 1983.  As he was being prosecuted for a tax violation, President Ati George Sokomanu resigned on February 17, 1984, but he was re-elected as president by the Electoral College on March 8, 1984. Parliamentary elections were held on November 30, 1987, and the Vanua’aka Pati (Our Land Party) won 25 out of 46 seats in the National Assembly.  The Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) won 19 seats in the National Assembly.  One individual was killed during a riot in Port Vila on May 16, 1988.  At the request of the government of Prime Minister Walter Lini, Australian and New Zealand airlifted riot control gear to Port Vila.  President George Ati Sokomanu was dismissed for “gross misconduct” by the Electoral College on January 12, 1989, and Frederick Karlomuana Timakata was elected president by the Electoral College on January 30, 1989.  On March 7, 1989, former President George Ati Sokomanu was sentenced to six years in prison for “incitement to mutiny”.  Prime Minister Lini was dismissed as prime minister on September 6, 1991, and Donald Kalpokas formed a government as prime minister. Parliamentary elections were held on December 2, 1991, and the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) won 19 out of 46 seats in the National Assembly. Maxime Carlot Korman of the UMP formed a government as prime minister on December 16, 1991.  Jean-Marie Leye Lenelgau was elected president by the Electoral College on March 2, 1994.  Parliamentary elections were held on November 30, 1995, and the Unity Front (UF) headed by Donald Kalpokas won 20 out of 50 seats in the National Assembly.  Serge Vohor of the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) was elected prime minister of a UMP-Vanuatu National United Party (VNUP) coalition government on December 21, 1995.  Prime Minister Serge Vohor announced his resignation on February 8, 1996, and Maxime Carlot Korman was elected prime minister on February 23, 1996.  Prime Minister Maxime Carlot Korman lost a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly on September 30, 1996, and Serge Vohor of the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) was elected as prime minister.

Crisis Phase (October 12, 1996-February 10, 1998):  As a result of a wage dispute, members of the paramilitary Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF) abducted President Jean Marie Leye Lenelgau and Deputy Prime Minister Barak Sope on October 12, 1996.  The president and deputy prime minister were released later in the day.  On November 12, 1996, government policemen commanded by Peter Bong arrested 150 members of the VMF, including Sato Kilman who was a Member of Parliament and former commander of the VMF.  On November 27, 1997, President Jean-Marie Leye decided to dissolve the National Assembly and hold parliamentary elections. The Appeals Court of Vanuatu upheld the president’s decision on January 9, 1998.   Government police clashed with demonstrators outside of the Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) office building and other locations in Port Vila on January 12-13, 1998, and the government declared a two-week state-of-emergency on January 13, 1998.  Peter Bong, the Police Commissioner of Vanuatu and Commander of the Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF) appealed for assistance from the government of Fiji.  Government police and members of the Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF) conducted “Operation Restore Public Hope” in the Port Vila area beginning on January 25, 1998, resulting in the arrest and detention of some 500 individuals.  After a two-week extension, the government lifted the state-of-emergency on February 10, 1998.

Post-Crisis Phase (February 11, 1998-August 31, 2004):  Parliamentary elections were held on March 6, 1998, and the Vanua’aka Pati (Our Land Party) won 18 out of 50 seats in the National Assembly. The Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) won 12 seats in the National Assembly.  Donald Kalpokas of the Vanua’aka Pati (Our Land Party) was elected prime minister on March 30, 1998.  Former Prime Minister Walter Lini died of an illness on February 21, 1999.  Fr. John Bennett Bani of the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) was elected president by the Electoral College on March 25, 1999.  Barak Sope, leader of the Melanesian Progressive Party (MPP), was elected as prime minister on November 25, 1999.  Prime Minister Barak Sope lost a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly on April 13, 2001, and Edward Natapei of the Vanua’aku Pati (Our Land Party) was elected as prime minister on April 14, 2001.  On November 8, 2001, former Prime Minister Barak Sope was charged with forging government guarantees valued at $23 million without the consent of the Finance Minister while he served as prime minister.  On July 19, 2002, former Prime Minister Barak Sope was sentenced to three years in prison on July 19, 2002.  President John Bennett Bani pardoned former Prime Minister Barak Sope on November 14, 2002.  Alfred Maseng was elected president by the 58-member Electoral College on April 12, 2004, but he was removed as president by the Supreme Court on May 11, 2004.  Parliamentary elections were held on July 6, 2004, and the Vanua’aku Pati (Our Land Party) – Vanuatu National United Party (VNUP) coalition won 18 out of 52 seats in the parliament.  The Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) won nine seats in the parliament.  The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) sent one observer (and three support staff) to monitor the parliamentary elections. Serge Vohor of the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) was elected prime minister on July 29, 2004. Kalkot Mataskelekele Mauliliu of the National United Party (NUP) was elected president by the 58-member Electoral College on August 16, 2004.

Crisis Phase (September 1, 2004-December 18, 2004):  On September 1, 2004, Foreign Minister Barak Sope demanded that two Australian federal police (AFP) advisers, along with two Australian civilian advisers attached to the State Law Office, leave Vanuatu within two weeks.  The Australian federal police (AFP) advisers were accused of spying and interfering in domestic politics in Vanuatu.  On September 7, 2004, the Australian government threatened to reduce its $31 million (U.S. $24.5 million) foreign assistance program (including funds for rural development projects) to Vanuatu.  Two Australian federal police (AFP) advisers that were ordered out of the country flew out of Port Vila on September 15, 2004.  The next day, Prime Minister Serge Vohor stated that the Australian federal police advisers were permitted to return to Vanuatu.  In return for financial assistance of more than $20 million (to offset possible cuts in financial assistance threatened by Australia), Prime Minister Serge Vohor established diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) during his visit to Taiwan on November 3, 2004.  China immediately suspended its foreign assistance to Vanuatu.  On November 16, 2004, Prime Minister Serge Vohor dismissed Foreign Minister Barak Sope for leading the effort in the Council of Ministers to oppose the establishment of diplomatic relations with Taiwan.  On November 26, 2004, Australian diplomats sent to Port Vila issued an ultimatum to the government of Vanuatu to change its policies (including re-establishing diplomatic relations with China) or face a suspension of foreign assistance.  On November 28, 2004, Prime Minister Serge Vohor issued a statement indicating that Vanuatu would not be “blackmailed” by Australia.  On December 2, 2004, six government ministers resigned because of their opposition to the Taiwan policy.  Prime Minister Serge Vohor lost a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly on December 11, 2004, and Ham Lini of the Vanuatu National United Party (VNUP) was elected as prime minister.  On December 18, 2004, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Vanuatu Prime Minister Ham Lini signed an agreement committing Vanuatu to “transparency and democracy, pledging to combat transnational crime”.

Post-Crisis Phase (December 19, 2004-present):  Ethnic groups from the islands of Ambrym and Tanna clashed in Port Vila on March 3-4, 2007, resulting in the deaths of three individuals.  The government declared a two-week state of emergency in Port Vila on March 4, 2007.  Edward Natapei, leader of Vanua’aku Pati (Our Land Party), was elected as prime minister on September 22, 2008.  Motions of no-confidence in the National Assembly against Prime Minister Edward Natapei were unsuccessful on October 2 and November 25, 2008.  Iolu Johnson Abil was elected president by the Electoral College on September 2, 2009.  While traveling to Cancun, Mexico for global climate change negotiations, Prime Minister Edward Natapei lost a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly on December 2, 2010, and Sato Kilman of the People’s Progress Party (PPP) was elected as prime minister.  Prime Minister Sato Kilman lost a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly on April 24, 2011, and Serge Vohor was elected as prime minister.  On May 13, 2011, the Court of Appeals ruled that the election of Prime Minister Serge Vohor was unconstitutional since he did not receive an absolute majority of the votes in the National Assembly.  Sato Kilman of the People’s Progress Party (PPP) was elected as prime minister by the National Assembly on May 13, 2011.  Prime MInister Sato Kilman was dismissed following court ruling on June 16, 2011, but he was re-elected as prime minister by the National Assembly on June 26, 2011.  Edward Natapei, leader of Vanua’aku Pati (Our Land Party), served as interim prime minister from June 16 to June 26, 2011.  On May 9, 2012, the government ordered the closure of Australia’s federal police (AFP) liason office in Port Vila, following a diplomatic dispute involving the treatment of Prime Minister Sato Kilman at the Sydney airport in April 2012.  Australia’s federal police (AFP) contingent left the country on May 10, 2012.  Parliamentary elections were held on October 30, 2012, and the Vanua’aku Pati (Our Land Party) won eight out of 52 seats in the National Assembly.  The People’s Progress Party (PPP) won six seats in the National Assembly.  Following the defection of two government ministers and six government “backbenchers” to the opposition, Prime Minister Sato Kilman announced his resignation on March 20, 2013, and Moana Carcasses Kalosil of the Green Confederation (GC) was elected as prime minister on March 23, 2013.  The governments of Australia and Vanuatu signed a police cooperation agreement on April 5, 2013, and Australian federal police (AFP) advisers returned to Port Vila on April 8, 2013.

[Sources:  ABC Radio Australia, November 8, 2001, November 14, 2002, September 15, 2004, September 16, 2004, March 23, 2013; Amnesty International (AI) report, September 1998; Associated Press (AP), May 18, 1988, March 7, 1989, October 13, 1996; Banks and Muller, 1998, 1004-1008; Bercovitch and Jackson, 1997, 196; British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), November 27, 1997, March 30, 1998, July 6, 2004, August 17, 2004, November 26, 2004, March 7, 2007, November 27, 2009, December 2, 2010, May 10, 2012; Cable News Network (CNN), November 13, 2001; Degenhardt, 1988, 408-409; Keesing’s Record of World Events, January 2, 1981, April 1984, January 1989, September 1991, December 1991, March 1994, September 1996, January 1998, March 1998, November 1999; New York Times (NYT), February 23, 1999; Reuters, April 14, 2001, March 5, 2007; Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), September 7, 2004, September 8, 2004, November 26, 2004; Tillema, 1991, 274-275.]

 

Selected Bibliography

Ambrose, David. 1996. “Vanuatu,” The Contemporary Pacific, Fall, pp. 437-442.

Ambrose, David. 1997. “Vanuatu,” The Contemporary Pacific, Fall, pp. 497-505.

Kernot, Sarah and Lai Sakita. “The Role of Chiefs in Peacebuilding in Port Vila,” State, Society, and Governance in Melanesia, Discussion Paper 2008/4, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University.

MacQueen, Norman. 1988. “Beyond Tok Win: The Papua New Guinea Intervention in Vanuatu, 1980.” Pacific Affairs 61
(Summer): 235-252.