Reforms are a fundamental governance tool that keeps a government in check and current with the ongoing changes that are affecting society. Vanuatu, for the last 30 years has expended too much political capital in maintaining political stability instead of focusing on the socio economic development priorities of this country and alleviate poverty everywhere.
The current reforms are timely and here are my personal contributions.
Firstly, the bill should also cement a set timeframe to review and change electoral boundaries.
The current impromptu practice of redrawing constituency boundaries prior to every General Election is ridiculous.
In some extreme cases, eleventh hour changes are made to the top brass at the electoral office or the electoral commission.
It’s nothing short of political coercion because the intention is obviously to disempower the political competition and improve one’s political chances.
The Port Vila Constituency and the Efate Rural Constituency are examples whereby some polling stations swing like a pendulum between both constituencies depending on the government’s decision.
At least they’ve stopped fiddling with Luganville Constituency boundary.
Some politicians are utilising political institutions to maximise their own benefits and yet call it a ‘free and fair’ election.
This is election rigging and the public should call out the government on this and demand it to assimilate this into the current reforms as well.
Secondly, the government’s decision to start addressing the issue of political parties’ should be commended.
Some parties have become cartels and dynastic whereby political participation is now an exclusive commodity. Power in democracies must be fairly distributed.
Vanuatu belongs to all peoples and the politics of this country must reflect this and serve the national interest.
Once parties undertake reforms, then politicians can truthfully talk about national reforms.
The rise of independents in Vanuatu politics is a reflection of Vanuatu’s political inefficacy.
Not dissimilar to the party participation argument is the poor voter turnout during elections which continues to fall.
This is very disturbing for a young democracy, as political theorists would attest that the passion for becoming a new state and achieving universal suffrage would’ve sent our turnout figures through the ceiling for a at least a few decades after independence, yet the opposite has transpired.
Voters are gradually losing faith in our political institutions, including political parties.
Instituting meritocracy into political parties can be an option to address political representation issue and restore voter confidence.
This meritocracy mechanism would also favour the current campaign to put more women in parliament because it will provide surety for fair selection that is primarily based on merit, skills and experience, regardless of sex.
Vanuatu has more than a handful of qualified women out there, well qualified and experienced to enter and succeed in parliament.
Such institutional changes are required to remove the current impediments.
The country demands that individuals that are involved in party politics to be able to serve impartially “all” citizens of the state with competence.
Reforms must translate to progress and development.
Thirdly, I’ve noted that the change that has caused more debate within the public space is the changes in relation to ‘independents’.
The independents reform must’ve been advanced as a paternalistic policy to address the instability in Vanuatu politics.
Independents may be a cause for political instability in Vanuatu, but there are several other factors as well, a few which I have raised in this letter.
The independents are a reflection of people’s distrust in established parties. Society changes, and political views change. In a democracy, political rights must be broadly distributed to reflect the various interests in society.
Political participation is not only about winning elections, but an opportune moment for citizens to use as a platform to bring the views and concerns that have been pushed out to the peripheries of our society back to the core of our political debates.
The real challenge is for political parties to undertake internal reforms to improve their performances to increase their support instead of shifting the instability blame to the independents.
Restricting people’s liberty to participate in the democratic process as independents is repressive, hence, the magnitude of attention it’s receiving in current debates.
Additionally, almost 40 years from independence, I still think that the elephant in the room in our young democracy is our voting system.
The ‘first past the post’ voting system is no longer viable for Vanuatu’s political context.
It is a perfect electoral tool for countries with two parties but not for a country with multiple parties like Vanuatu.
It was feasible when the political competition immediately after independence was only between the two major parties of VP and UMP.
But when Vanuatu entered the season of coalitions, it has been very difficult to attain political stability as more parties were formed.
Contrastingly, in a Proportional Representation Electoral voting system, we see more collaboration, more transparency, and the most critical part is we see voters’ intentions reflected in the legislature.
A thirty percent of the vote should equate to a thirty percent of the parliamentary seats too. In Vanuatu, we currently have a prime minister from a party that was not even in the top 5, as far as percentage figures of votes casted during the last GE reveal.
The party with more votes should be the one leading the country. Au revoir to the current Tom and Jerry horse trading absurdities after elections to lobby for the prime ministership.
Others may argue that our ability to produce robust MOAs to form coalitions are resilient and can produce an effective government.
Nevertheless, such contestations are no substitute for the voice of the people in a democracy. Democracy must always prevail.
When the majority of the votes are for a particular party; that is the party that should be directing government policies.
This has not been the case in Vanuatu for the past few decades.
Why haven’t there been more government efforts to research an alternative electoral system? The latter option could be more expensive but the advantages are plentiful.
The ‘first past the post’ voting system was inherited by a lot of democracies previously colonised by Britain but since then, the electorate grew large and politics more complex and the simple majority system is no longer sustainable.
It continues to produce election results which only represented a tiny portion of the total votes.
This is against the ideals of democracy.
Although the project of democracy is centuries old, for countries like Vanuatu, we are still finding our feet inside it, which means we will not solve all our political problems with a single reform.
Nonetheless, this does not give justification to our current political woes.
The most effective reforms are the ones that are continuous and not just one hit wonders.
The reforms which the people of Vanuatu demand are reforms that will lead Vanuatu and its people to a new set of political institutions that are capable of bringing prosperity to every Ni-Vanuatu.
A political transformation of this sort is vital at a time when we’re about to graduate from an LDC status to a Developing Country status.
Long God Yumi Stanap forever!!
A Philippians 3:12 Production