BARAK SOPE NEW PRIME MINISTER FOR VANUATU

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ABC/Radio Australia Feature November 25, 1999

There's been a change of government in Vanuatu.

Prime Minister Donald Kalpokas resigned after it became clear that he would not survive a no-confidence vote planned by the opposition.

This opened the way for veteran politician Barak Sope to be elected as Vanuatu's new prime minister.

Linda Lopresti reports:

LOPRESTI: The writing was on the wall for Donald Kalpokas. After serving just 18 months of his four-year term, the opposition gave notice this week of its intention to move a motion of no confidence against the prime minister's Vanuaku Pati.

But just before parliament was due to hear the motion, Mr. Kalpokas resigned.

Mark Neil-Jones is the publisher of Vanuatu's leading newspaper, the Trading Post. He says the prime minister's resignation was no surprise.

NEIL-JONES: It had been on the cards because there has been a split within the Vanuaku Pati over concerns that he did not react quick enough with the impending vote of no confidence, and insisted on waiting to see if his junior coalition partner, Willie Jimmy, could in fact come up with the required number of backbenchers and get back support, and unfortunately he didn't.

LOPRESTI: The opposition had claimed Mr. Kalpokas had allowed himself to be too heavily influenced by foreign advisers which, in turn, diminished respect for the office. But the opposition didn't have the numbers to topple the government.

After four by-elections in August, both the government and the opposition each had 26 votes in the 52-seat parliament. So the opposition led by its leader, Mokin Steven, began marshalling its forces.

First to announce his support was independent MP Harris Naunun, giving the opposition a narrow majority. But the government's fate was firmly sealed when the Minister of Health announced he was also willing and ready to swap allegiances. The defection gave the opposition a majority 28 votes.

Journalist, Mark Neil-Jones.

NEIL-JONES: There was really nothing on the cards that VP (Vanuaku Pati) could do when Harris Naunun, when he defected, that put a lot of pressure on the Minister of Health who is from the same party. And he then issued a statement saying that if it looked as though the government would fall, he would cross the floor in order to stay in power and be able to help his people.

LOPRESTI: Barak Sope has now been elected prime minister after securing 28-votes to 24. His position was sealed earlier this week in talks between the four ruling coalition parties.

The change of government will also see the return to the fold of former prime ministers Serge Vohor, who will control foreign affairs, and Maxime Carlot Korman. Vanuatu's new deputy prime minister is Reginald Stanley, a position which was tipped to go to former opposition leader and now new finance minister Mokin Steven.

STEVEN: The reason why I will not be a Deputy Prime Minister (is) because we in the National United Party as one political party we have a procedure. And we have a Vice-President which is -- he's from the northern part of Vanuatu. And regarding our procedure to be loyal to the constitution regarding the party, the regional assembly from the northern part of Vanuatu will be the deputy prime minister.

LOPRESTI: The new government has pledged many major changes, including lessening the power of departmental heads and reviewing the recruitment of foreign advisers.

But, as journalist Mark Neil-Jones explains, it remains to be seen whether the government, with its four coalition parties, can bring stability to Vanuatu.

NEIL-JONES: It's not going to be easy going on past coalitions. They haven't worked out. There has been political instability for a long time here, and with the numbers that the new government have got -- it's not many; they've only got four -- so it will be reasonably easy for the government to fall if they're not careful.

It could be a distinct possibility that if things don't work out with the new government, NUP could very well walk and join forces with VP. But this is down the track. It remains to be seen how stable the new government can be.

(First broadcast November 25, 1999)

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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