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Vanuatu’s Parliament dissolves as power struggle goes to court

#Vanuatus #Parliament #dissolves #power #struggle #court

A controversial decision to dissolve Vanuatu’s parliament appeared to be challenged in court as opponents accused the country’s embattled prime minister of illegally evading a no-confidence vote on Friday.

Hours before a parliamentary vote that could have toppled Prime Minister Bob Loughman’s government, he rigged the dissolution of parliament, triggering an election two years earlier than expected.

The opposition – backed by 17 members of the government – had backed a vote of no confidence in Loughman, who has led the Pacific island nation since 2020.

Opposition leader Ralph Regenvanu said he would “challenge this dissolution in court,” with an urgent motion expected as early as Monday.

The dispute is likely to mark a period of political unrest in Vanuatu, which has traditionally been more stable than neighboring Solomon Islands or Papua New Guinea.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Tess Newton Cain, a longtime Vanuatu observer and project leader for the Pacific Hub at Griffith University, but “not a constitutional crisis at this stage.”

Politics in Vanuatu focuses on personal relationships and regional politics rather than ideological parties. Membership in coalitions and even political parties can be fluid.

The decision to dissolve parliament was carried out by recently elected President Nikenike Vurobaravu, a Loughman party ally, raising questions about political interference.

Loughman insisted the decision had gone overboard.

“The President has exercised the powers conferred on him by the Constitution and as Acting Prime Minister of a caretaker government we welcome the decision,” he said.

If the decision is upheld, Vanuatu will face elections within the next 60 days.

Vanuatu was not scheduled to hold general elections until 2024 before parliament was dissolved.

In June, the country announced deals with Beijing to deepen its economic ties with China after Loughman met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the capital, Port Vila.

Pacific states are under intense political scrutiny amid China-US tensions, with Beijing seeking to increase its security and trade presence in the region.

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