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By Robert Keith Reid

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (July 11, 2000 - Islands Business magazine/PINA Nius Online)---As leader of Vanuatu's parliamentary opposition, Edward Natapei is placed to become the country's next prime minister.

Given the nature of the country's constant political convulsions, Natapei isn't over eager for promotion to prime ministerial rank. He insists that he isn't even an eager politician.

"I am not anxious to be prime minister at present," he explained, talking in a room at Parliament House. "It is a difficult job because of the fluid situation we have at the moment. I would rather go in with a stable situation and do a good job rather than just a few months and do nothing. What is the use?

"There is no real difference of policies of political parties so people tend to move around. Everyone wants to become a minister, that is one of the problems, and they are very easily swayed by people with money. Being prime minister is not an easy position. You are always having to look over your shoulder to see who is behind you. That is not something to look forward. You should be concentrating on developing and getting the country moving."

The way Natapei explains it is the way Vanuatu politics have been since 1991, when then Vanua'aku Party (VP) he leads split after ruling the country since 1980.

The then party leader and prime minister sulked off to form the National United Party (NUP) and later team up with the Vanua'aku's traditional foe, the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP). Currently a dissident faction of the union is teamed up, more of less, with the Vanua'aku Party.

After the last Vanua'aku leader, Donald Kalpokas, resigned last December to avoid a parliamentary vote-of-no-confidence motion boiled up by the opposition, the party's young turks decided it was time for a change.

Kalpokas, one of Vanuatu's rare true political gentleman, but too nice with it, critics said, went to the party's annual congress expecting to be re-elected as leader automatically, but wasn't.

"I had heard people talking about the need for a change. They mentioned my name. But I was not interested in politics from the beginning," Natapei said. "There were people more senior. I was surprised. Donald is a very democratic person. He took it quite well."

Natapei, 45, is from the island of Futuna, and is married with three children, and is a staunch member of the Presbyterian Church and convenor of its finance committee.

He did a business studies course in Fiji, worked for a trust company and the co-operatives federation and then fell into politics in 1982 when the MP for Futuna annoyed his constituents by having a tiff with Walter Lini, and resigning his ministerial job.

"I happened to be around," he explains.

Later he was a health minister. More recently he was parliamentary speaker.

Natapei is regarded as another rare figure of decency, but one who needs to become tougher if he's to survive. He doesn't have a high opinion of many MPs.

He says: "The difficulty is that a lot of members of parliament are there just for the money and they are very easily swayed. My guess is that 25% are serious politicians who know what they are doing."

For additional reports from Islands Business, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Magazines/Journals/Fiji Islands Business.

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