On Thursday (August 17), opposition lawmakers in Vanuatu chose to boycott Parliament. Their decision stemmed from an unsuccessful attempt to oust Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau. As reported by Reuters, Prime Minister Kalsakau narrowly managed to retain his position a day earlier, as the opposition fell short by just one vote to reach the required 27 votes needed to remove him. The opposition had criticized Kalsakau’s government for entering into a security agreement with Australia.
The no-confidence motion won 26 votes, compared with 23 votes against, but failed to win the absolute majority (of 27) to remove a prime minister from the 52-seat parliament.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, opposition leader Bob Loughman said the government of Prime Minister Kalsakau had fallen and the court should decide the matter.
Vanuatu is currently at the centre of a strategic rivalry between China and Western countries in the Pacific. The country was plunged into a political crisis after Loughman lodged the no-confidence petition, which also criticised the government for raising the minimum wage.
Addressing Parliament, Loughman said that Vanuatu’s impartiality had been compromised by the Australian security deal and infrastructure development could be at risk. The country should not be sucked into a game it does not want, to be used inappropriately by competing nations to exert dominance in our region, he added.
China has been a major infrastructure lender to Vanuatu, donating the parliament building, stadiums and the prime minister’s office, as well as constructing roads and wharves, Reuters reported.
However, the United States and its allies are seeking to deter Pacific Island countries from establishing security ties with China, after Beijing signed a security pact with the Soloman Islands
Prime Minister Kalsakau reshuffled his cabinet to win support ahead of the vote, with the new deputy prime minister making a show of support for China.
During a ceremony last week to welcome the Chinese navy’s medical ship, Peace Ark, Deputy Prime Minister Matai Seremaiah said that “health and security ties are an important part of our bilateral relations.”