NATAPEI EXPECTED TO LEAD A NEW LOOK VANUATU PARLIAMENT

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By Ricky Binihi

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (May 30, 2002 - Port Vila Presse/PINA Nius Online)---Edward Natapei now looks certain to be back as Prime Minister but the general elections have given a new look to the 52-member Vanuatu Parliament. Almost half of its former members are gone.

Twenty-four new Members of Parliament have been elected, apparently confirming reports that poor public service delivery and a battered economy contributed to the downfall of so many MPs.

The biggest casualty is the major party in the government, the Vanua‘aku Pati led by Mr. Natapei.

He lost four of his ministers: Health Minister Clement Leo, Finance Minister Joe Bomal Carlo, Comprehensive Reform Program Minister Willie Varasmaite, and Ni-Vanuatu Business Minister Daniel Bangtor.

Deputy Prime Minister Serge Vohor's Union of Moderate Parties did extremely well, managing to retain the seats occupied by five of its ministers in the coalition government.

They were Mr. Vohor; Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Mahé, Agriculture Minister Willy Posen, Youth and Sports Minister Henri Taga, and Education Minister Jacques Sese.

Union of Moderate Party strategists outsmarted the rest.

They supported raising the price of copra, ensuring they gained the allegiance of the Tanna leader Chief Issac Wan. When public opinion was rallying against the sale of live cattle, their president told Radio Vanuatu the coalition government was putting a temporary halt on live cattle exports to await a comprehensive study.

Electoral Commissioner Pastor Sethy Regenvanu confirmed that the Union of Moderate Parties now has 15 seats compared with the Vanua‘aku Pati's 14.

Vanua‘aku Pati and Union of Moderate Parties members disrupted the Father Lini Highway along Port Vila for almost an hour and a half with chants of Seli Hoo and Ute Ute Hoo ringing during a victory parade.

Between them the two parties have 29 seats, enough to govern together alone.

Speeches delivered by both Mr. Vohor and Mr. Natapei reaffirmed their commitment to work together. They exchanged pledges in the form of a signed Memorandum of Agreement, which was welcomed by the onlookers.

Mr. Vohor has not pressed for the top job but has instead pushed to strengthen the Union of Moderate Parties representation in the Cabinet.

The Union of Moderate Parties is expected to gain one extra ministry, Public Utilities, as well as Education and Agriculture and the Speaker's position.

The Vanua‘aku Pati is expected to control Finance, Health, Land and International Affairs.

In the Opposition, the only party that fared well in the elections was that of former French administrator during the British-French Condominium era, Maxime Carlot Korman. Mr. Korman's Vanuatu Republican Party increased from one seat in 1998 to three in 2002.

The Independent candidates are also a force to be reckoned with. Five of them got elected.

Meanwhile, the coalition parties are eyeing enlisting some Opposition members to give them the numbers required for a stable government but most importantly a government that has a two-thirds majority.

This will enable them to make amendments to the Constitution.

For additional reports from the Port Vila Presse, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Port Vila (Vanuatu) Presse.

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

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