Friendship Ends, Rotten Flavour

Has Prime Minister Charlot Salwai now effectively played his final move on the political chessboard?

Despite the tempestuous and rough seas leading up to the withdrawn motion, MP Bob Loughman and his Vanua’aku Pati (VP) team reunited beside the PM to defeat the attempted motion. Of course there was

the pressure from VP for more portfolios.

The PM could have listened and made some concessions and sacrifices to honour the most loyal and trusted partner of 3.5 years since the Pele

Agreement. But that obviously didn’t happen.

A very close source to the VP noted (now that they are out) that there are deep regrets within the VP leadership, that they trusted Mr Salwai too

much when they should have perhaps simply proceeded with the motion and settled things the way they wanted.

A VP supporter from the VP President’s own constituency commented that this was MP Loughman’s first test as recently-elected President and he failed to deliver the biggest political party in the coalition from being terminated.

But then there’s also the complications brought on by the Tanna political scenery and the PM’s certain level of loyalty to the Leaders Party of

Vanuatu (LPV). On 7th November 2018, then Acting Prime Minister

Loughman dismissed arch political rival Jotham Napat and his entire LPV grouping possibly due to LPV’s ongoing threats against VP on Tanna

which culminated in LPV’s victory over VP in the bielections last year.

This time it is the latter’s turn to ‘revengefully’ take over the helm of Deputy Prime Ministership and Loughman is forced to move across to the

Opposition bench.

Do note that LPV was a power broker that offered the lifeline to the PM in two previous motions. So in a way, he still has that sense of loyalty to LPV, and this was his moment to make things right again after Loughman

dismissed LPV in late 2018.

Interestingly though, when the recent Motion was withdrawn by the Leader of Opposition Mr Kalsakau, the mover was MP Napat.

When the Prime Minister reshuffled VP out of Government, Mr Napat and his team walked into Government leaving Mr Kalsakau still out. Was this a mistake or a strategic move, despite the fact that Messrs Salwai and Kalsakau are at odds politically, with the former leading what can be described as a breakaway faction of the UMP which the LO is a key

member of.

Mr Napat’s preferred Ministry would be that of Public Utilities (MIPU). That’s where there is the greatest level of ‘visibility’ of one’s performance as an MP and as a State Minister.

That’s also where there is a tendency to get your own political projects

accomplished, as was the widespread allegation against him during Napat’s previous reign.

That’s where you are also honoured with titles such as ‘man of action’ (smiles).

So in a way, the reshuffle appears to be largely an act of ensuring the Prime Minister’s survival till the end of the 11th legislature.

Whether or not he really wants Napat back does not clearly show in the changes that have taken place.

The PM could not possibly honour Mr Napat with MIPU again after the latter

threatened and disappointed other political parties when he was former Minister of MIPU. And besides, the PM’s close associate and current Minister of MIPU needs to rescue his own TORBA constituency after LPV totally disrupted the comfort zone in the last provincial elections up north

by sweeping the majority of seats into the TORBA Provincial Government.

Policy-wise, Mr Napat made Headlines in the Daily Post on 3rd May 2019 announcing ‘No To Income Tax’.

The very next day, on 4th May Mr Salwai took his turn and made headlines as well in the papers to defend the Income Tax.

We effectively now have a Prime Minister and his Deputy PM who are completely at odds with each other on the very sensitive policy issue

of the Income Tax which Mr Salwai has pushed fervently for over the past year or so.

Ironically in Parliament they basically sit next to each other – the PM and his Deputy. At the next sitting of Parliament (that’s if the current Government still survives then), will the two leaders be seeing eye-to-eye

on this issue or will this be another subject that would cause more turmoil at Council of Ministers and within the new administration?

Will they now still be talking about the income tax or for the sake of this ‘new friendship’ they will shelve the idea?

Then there’s the issue of the Parliamentary Secretaries (PS) saga which Mr Jotham Napat was a key driver of, supporting the Leader of Opposition to

take PM Salwai to court.

The Supreme Court dismissed the claim, and an appeal has been lodged, still with Mr Napat and his LPV party being key members of the appellants.

Now that he has been swayed over to th e Government side, the Leader

of Opposition will have to work with VP and the rest of the members of Opposition to continue the legal battle.

If Mr Napat now withdraws his and his party’s signature from the appeal case, the question that now begs some answers is, was he really serious about the PS issue or is this just pure and plain politics at play?

Question of ethics and the oath taken before the Attorney General, where has that gone?

Quite frankly we have before us a political playground that is extremely

unstable and volatile. Whether this new government lasts for the remaining 5-9 months into General Elections time is pretty uncertain.

Political friends have turned into arch rivals and the flavour at the tip of the palate is super sour right now.

Latest twist: rumours are also rife from some sources that over the weekend (after the Saturday change over) some interesting negotiations

involving a certain Minister in the Government have been taking place with the Opposition side (again) at a distant popular resort outside of Vila. If you are new to it, this is Politics Vanuatu-style.

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