VANUATU ELECTION FEE CONTROVERSY CONTINUES

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By Wilson Toa

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (September 19, 2000 - Vanuatu Weekly/PINA Nius Online)---Most political parties have already nominated their candidates for the coming provincial elections. But will this end up as the 'No Candidate' election as the controversy over the big increase in nomination fees continues?

The question to ask is, can the political parties and their candidates afford the candidate fee of 100,000 Vatu (US$ 708. 92) set by the Electoral Commission?

The National United Pati (NUP) recently during its Congress on Tanna and nominated 46 candidates while the Vanuatu Republican Pati (VRP) nominated 36 candidates.

The two largest parties in the country, the Vanuaaku Pati (VP) and the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP), have still to nominate their candidates.

The government had made an attempt through the Council of Ministers to reduce the candidate fee to 15,000 Vatu (US$ 106.34), but the decision was not welcomed by the Electoral Commission, which argued that such a directive could not be made by the Council of Ministers through the Prime Minister.

"The decision could only be made by the Parliament or the court to reduce the candidate fee to 15,000 Vatu (about $US 116.34). In the meantime we still stand by to the 100,000 Vatu (about $US 708.92) candidate fee endorsed by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Banabas Tabi," the Commission stated.

This will mean that NUP will have to pay VT4.6 million to be able to have all of its 46 candidates contest the provincial elections and VRP will spent VT3.6 million for its 36 candidates, not to mention the VP and UMP.

Vanuatu Weekly asked the President of the Vanuaaku Pati and parliamentary opposition leader Edward Natapei whether or not the electoral fee will affect this coming election. He said: "I believe most political parties will find it difficult because they depend on their candidates to pay their own fee. The 100,000 Vatu (US$ 708.92) fee is just too much for our provincial candidates because most of them do not have a steady job."

He said the high fees would only give chances to political parties that have the support of business people to be able to contest the election.

When asked whether he is in support for a possible boycott of the provincial election announced by President of NUP Dinh Van Than, who is also a well-known businessman in country capable of financing his own candidates, he said: " Than did not discuss anything with me in relation to that matter yet. I am still waiting, but we believe that he was the one who influenced his Minister to endorse the fee to make it difficult for other political parties to contest the provincial elections – in order to allow NUP to win a majority vote. "The only Party that can afford such a fee is the National United Party."

Dinh Van Than, in an interview with Vanuatu Weekly, stated that NUP can afford the fee, but it won't be fair for other political parties. "That is why I want to talk with leaders of other political parties for a possible boycott of the provincial election," said Mr. Dinh.

Mr. Natapei said at the moment they are trying to raise some funds to help finance their provincial candidates. However, he wants to see something done to reduce the fee.

He stated that he was surprised to see that the electoral office had "stepped out of their responsibility" to increase the candidate fee to 100,000 Vatu (US$ 708.92).

"It is not the job of the electoral office to increase the candidate fee, but the Ministry of Finance. Their utmost responsibility is to ensure that democracy exists in the country where people can contest an election and vote in a democratic manner," argued Mr. Natapei.

He explained that if there is no money to run the provincial election, it is not the problem of the electoral commission.

"The government, through the Ministry of Finance, is responsible for the expenses. If there is no money, then they have to find money somewhere, but it is not for the electoral office to suddenly increase the candidate fee in order to be able to conduct a provincial election," stressed the VP President.

Mr. Natapei concluded that most political parties would feel the burden of the candidate fee and would wish to see something done about it soon.

Whether or not there will be candidates contesting this provincial election is still uncertain.

For additional reports from the Vanuatu Weekly/Hebdomadaire, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Other News Resources/ Vanuatu Weekly/Hebdomadaire.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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