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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (July 31, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---Vanuatu celebrated its 20th anniversary of independence on Sunday with festivities drawing officials from around the Pacific Island region.

The Vanua‘aku Pati, led by Father Walter Lini, spearheaded the struggle for independence in the country and was in government until 1991 when the French-speaking minority won office.

Since the late 1980s, there has been an increase in various factions of the leading parties and a growing number of coalitions in government.

Is this a sign of growing political instability or healthy democracy at work?

Edward Natapei, now leader of the opposition Vanua‘aku party, told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat that it's a bit of both.

"The main causes of instability in Vanuatu have been mainly influenced from interest groups and individuals from houses who have found their way into key positions in political parties. They’ve been able to influence leaders in the political arena to follow their plans and, thereby, cause divisions between leaders of the country," he said.

"Before independence it was relatively easier to encourage people to come together as a force to fight for independence. But after independence there was nothing to hold people together. When you look at 80 different islands with their own traditional chiefs, there’s bound to be differences in opinions between the leaders and the chiefs.

"If we wish to bring people together, we would first of all have to consider if the traditional chiefs and political party leaders are prepared to allow other leaders to take on leadership roles," he said.

He added that it’s difficult for any government to implement their policies because they are in office for only a short time.

"This has affected the economy of the country," he said. "Investors are worried about coming into the country because there are too many changes."

Natapei said he doesn’t see any one party with a majority in the 2002 elections.

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

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