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Vanuatu - Government

The constitution created a republican political system headed by a president who has primarily ceremonial powers and is elected by a two-thirds majority in an electoral college consisting of members of Parliament and the presidents of Regional Councils. The president serves a 5-year term. The president may be removed by the Electoral College for gross misconduct or incapacity. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is elected by a majority vote of a three-fourths quorum of Parliament. The prime minister in turn appoints the Council of Ministers, whose number may not exceed one-fourth of the number of parliamentary representatives. The prime minister and the Council of Ministers constitute the executive government.

Parliament is a 52-member unicameral house elected by all persons over 18 years old. Parliament normally sits for a 4-year term unless dissolved by majority vote of a three-fourths quorum or a directive from the president on the advice of the prime minister. The national Council of Chiefs, called the Malvatu Mauri and elected by district councils of chiefs, advises the government on all matters concerning ni-Vanuatu culture and language.

The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and up to three other judges. Two or more members of this court may constitute a Court of Appeal. Magistrate courts handle most routine legal matters. The legal system is based on British law. The constitution also provides for the establishment of village or island courts presided over by chiefs to deal with questions of customary law.

In 1994, eleven Local Government Councils of Vanuatu were changed in to six provinces: into, SANMA, ENAMA, MALAMPA, SHEFA, TAFEA. Each province has its own distinctive physical characteristics, culture and resources, all of which make Vanuatu what it is, unique. Each province has its own range of powers to enable their governing bodies to administer them freely, under the central government's supervision and subject to the Judiciary, in compliance with the Constitution and the laws of the Republic.

Government and society in Vanuatu tended to divide along linguistic -- French and English -- lines. Historically, English-speaking politicians such as Walter Lini and other leaders of the Vanua'aku Pati favored early independence, whereas French-speaking political leaders favored continuing association with the colonial administrators, particularly France.

On the eve of independence in 1980, Jimmy Stevens' Nagriamel movement, in alliance with private French interests and backed by American libertarians hoping to establish a tax-free haven, declared the island of Espiritu Santo independent of the new government. Following independence, Vanuatu requested assistance from Papua New Guinea, whose forces restored order on Santo. From then until 1991, the Vanua'aku Pati and its predominantly English-speaking leadership controlled the Vanuatu Government, and Walter Lini became widely considered as the nation's founding father.

Vanuatu is the only Pacific country with multi-member electorates. The proliferation of political parties is seen, by some, as one reason for persistent political instability. Until about 1991 the main political divide in Vanuatu was between Anglophones and Francophones, respectively represented by the Vanuaaku Pati (VP) and United Moderates Party (UMP). During the last decade, parties have been splintering over policy and, more often, personality differences, in a manner more typical of other Melanesian countries like Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. Recent efforts to try and reunify each of the two sides, ostensibly to encourage greater political stability, have yet to play out fully.

In December 1991, and following a split in the Vanua'aku Pati, Maxime Carlot Korman, leader of the Francophone Union of Moderate Parties (UMP), was elected Vanuatu's first Francophone prime minister. He formed a coalition government with Walter Lini's breakaway VP faction, now named the National United Party (NUP). From 1995-2004 government leadership changed frequently due to unstable coalitions within Parliament and within the major parties.

The president dissolved Parliament in May 2004 to forestall a vote of no confidence and called a special election that resulted in losses for most major parties. UMP's leader, Serge Vohor, returned as Prime Minister at the head of an unwieldy coalition government. Following controversy over Vohor's attempt to extend diplomatic relations to Taiwan, he was ousted by a vote of no confidence in December 2004 and replaced by Ham Lini, brother of Walter Lini. The new coalition included 10 parties and featured the former opposition leader, Sato Kilman, as Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister.

Elections were held on September 2, 2008, and a seven-party coalition elected Edward Natapei as Prime Minister with the former Prime Minister, Ham Lini, as Deputy Prime Minister. In November 2009, facing the threat of a vote of no confidence, Prime Minister Natapei replaced Lini and half of his cabinet ministers, drawing from Parliament's 16-member opposition Alliance bloc. Sato Kilman, leader of the Alliance bloc, was appointed Deputy Prime Minister.

In December 2010 Natapei was ousted in a vote of no confidence and Kilman was appointed Prime Minister. On April 24, 2011 Kilman himself was ousted in a vote of no confidence by a narrow margin of 26 votes to 25, and three-time Prime Minister Serge Vohor was appointed Prime Minister. Vohors cabinet included the only female member of Parliament (MP), Independent MP Eta Rory, as Minister of Agriculture. Labour Party MP Joshua Kalsakau was named Deputy Prime Minister.

Parliamentary elections were held on 30 October 2012. Sixteen political parties and four independents won seats. The largest party (VP) led by Edward Natapei won only eight of the 52 seats. At the first sitting of the new parliament, held on 19 November 2012, Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (Peoples Progressive Party) was re-elected prime minister to lead a coalition government.

Observers considered the national parliamentary elections in October 2012 generally free and fair. Parliament reelected Sato Kilman as prime minister on November 11 following national elections in October. According to the chief electoral officer, voters filed 24 petitions alleging irregularities. At years end the Supreme Court had dismissed 22 of the petitions due to lack of sufficient evidence, and the two remaining petitions were still going through the trial process.

But Kilman resigned ahead of a parliamentary no-confidence motion and on 23 March 2013, Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Katokai Kalosil (Green Confederation), was elected. Carcasses held a small, unwieldy coalition majority but faced opposition over a number of decisions, including a US$350 million airport concession agreement. Three unsuccessful no-confidence motions were lodged against the Prime Minister in 2013 and 2014. One was rejected by the Speaker in July 2013, one was withdrawn by the Opposition in December 2013 and one was defeated by the Government in February 2014. However, a fourth no-confidence motion was successful in May 2014 when Prime Minister Carcasses was replaced by Joe Natuman as Prime Minister.

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