Lazarus and the Rich Man, in Vanuatu’s Political Arena

We now have two Blocs camping in preparation for next Monday 20th April when a new Prime Minister, Speaker and others will be elected. Negotiators are turning hard on the political lobby wheels, while frustrations mount particularly among one-man-band type political ‘parties’ and independents whose roles, unfortunately, are predominantly just to make up the numbers rather than win any significant ‘leadership’ rewards for which they were actually elected by their people, unless of course they have excellent political connections or strong credentials, qualifications and are good negotiators.

They can’t risk saying too much at this stage. They need to stick beside their blocs with the hope of forming Government. Expectations are high, even if just for the bread crumbs that they might glean from the floor.

Lazarus and the Rich Man

This provocative biblical parable (found in Luke 16:19-31) has two contrasting narrative scenes. We’re interested in the version where the rich man feasts sumptuously every day, clothed in purple and fine linen and enjoys the ‘good time’, while poor Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate, incapacitated, full of sores, experiences hunger, poverty and discomfort, and who desires to be fed with what falls from the rich man’s table.

This grim biblical story depicts the kind of political system we have entertained and perpetuated for ourselves since Independence. A lot of our past political leaders have encouraged our political system to be heavily fragmented the way it is today by their reluctance, inaction and lack of decisiveness to get it fixed. So we have a spectrum of leadership that portrays the imagery of the rich man and Lazarus – those that get the immediate attention vs those that tag along and try their luck at taking a small bite at what’s left. If we don’t like the sound of it, then the message is simple, we need to end our heavily fragmented political system, reform and regroup our political system into fewer but stronger political parties. Turning a blind eye on the mess does not eliminate it.

Voting more political parties into the playing field is not the answer. Independent candidates can’t do it. The festering sore just sits there, decays and keeps haunting and threatening us. This was never the intention of our founding leaders of Independence.

Stale political environment

Vanuatu politics is driven largely by personality conflicts, expediency and other cultural factors rather than ideology. That’s why our political system is diseased and continues to disintegrate into more unmanageable pieces, yet we expect the people to keep accepting it. As Leo Sobechi wrote of the Nigerian case in 2017, our political system in Vanuatu has the ‘notoriety for multiplicity of political parties that end up confounding the voters during elections’.

More political parties are being born unnecessarily, not to mention the mushrooming of independents, which former PM Vohor depicted during the VBTC-sponsored Panel discussion last month prior to the GE as ‘parachute’ jumpers falling down through the mango tree branches also wanting to stand for the sake of standing. In the kind of scenario, we’ve created for ourselves, as Sobechi says of the Nigerian experience, ‘political parties became vehicles for ventilating ethnic identities and furthering minority interests without a definite stand on issues of national development and economic progress.’

Year of political ‘Maturity’

When you listen to speeches these days, one word keeps resounding – ‘Maturity’. Some talk of the 40 years of stumbling across the wilderness and that we must now head quickly to the ‘Promised Land’. This is our year of political maturity. Our new PM will not enjoy the ‘privilege’ of appointing Parliamentary Secretaries (PS) to keep MPs together under his Government’s umbrella as the post is now illegal. If our leaders are really serious about ‘change’ as they almost all preached during the GE campaigns, they will definitely show that come 8:30am Monday next week (20th) when Parliament convenes to elect a new PM. They need to elect a PM and stand with him all the way come rain, hail or shine.

We have far more than enough issues of national concern to worry about – COVID-19, TC Harold recovery and reconstruction, Red eye and Dengue outbreak, NCDs and Multi-drug-resistant TB. These are the latest challenges we know the new PM will have to grapple with while ensuring none of his political ‘friends’ in the Cabinet stabs him in the back with the dagger of treachery.

Not only that, but we also have a major challenge with the PS Criminal Case scheduled in court next month which has created clouds of uncertainty over engagement decisions, which is surely a thorny issue particularly in one of the two camping groups at present.

Political Stability?

Our leaders preach the need for ‘political stability’, but they have been very unsuccessful thus far.

A VBTC-panel on the evening of 9th March discussed this subject at length. In early 2016, a few days prior to the snap election, respected Chief Isaac Worwor openly called for the need to have this instability issue fixed, once and for all. Chief Worwor called for major political parties to unite ‘together to achieve majority rule’. Four years down the road since the 2016 discussion, we’re still at square zero, while our political environment has become far more fragmented than ever before.

What’s the Magic wand?

There is no magic wand to ensure a stable Government. In the years leading up to Independence in 1980 we did have some major issues that drew us together to fight some ‘common enemies’ – land alienation, our national identity vs settlers, and foreign rule and domination. We don’t have those as too-serious issues under the current political environment. So, what’s going to keep a deeply fragmented Government together? We need to get the political integrity bill passed and do all that’s necessary to address our politically unstable environment.

That will also help curb the type of rich man vs Lazarus political arena we’re living with today. Then we can meaningfully concentrate on issues of national development and economic progress.

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