Vanuatu Parliament descends into political chaos

After a period of rising tension and rancour in the Vanuatu Parliament, things came to a head with a dramatic turn of events on Tuesday morning.

The Speaker of Parliament, Gracia Shadrack, opted to declare 18 seats vacant with immediate effect. All the MPs affected are from the government side of the House and include both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

The ostensible reasoning for the Speaker’s decision is that the MPs had been absent from Parliament on three consecutive days during last week. The language of the Vacation of Seats Act refers to being absent from three consecutive sessions without excuse as the basis for vacation of seats.

Parliament was adjourned after those MPs who had been named by the Speaker refused to leave the chamber.

A legal challenge is expected before Parliament resumes on Friday.

COVID-19 round up

In Fiji, the numbers from the recent outbreak of COVID-19 are continuing to rise. There are currently more than 400 active cases recorded. Of particular concern is a cluster that is centred on the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva. Health authorities have announced that this will now become a dedicated COVID treatment centre and a field hospital will be established to deal with other medical care.

In PNG, efforts are underway to do accelerate vaccinations to make good use of supplies prior to them expiring. In Vanuatu, the vaccine roll out is underway. A delivery of 20,000 SinoPharm vaccines was received over the weekend, and they will be used as part of the initial programme, which aims to cover 20% of the population.

In Kiribati, life has returned to normal with the cases identified previously having been contained at the border, with those infected having made full recoveries.

Third independence referendum for New Caledonia

A third referendum on independence will be held in New Caledonia. Further to talks held recently in Paris, it has been announced that the third vote will be held in December of this year.

The Noumea Accords which chart a process of decolonisation envisage three possible referendums. The two previous ones were held in 2018 and 2020. On each occasion the vote was in favour of remaining a part of France. However, the margin narrowed significantly as between the first and second votes. This has led some to raise the possibility of this third vote being closer or even a 50/50 split.

The announcement has been met with some criticism from pro-independence factions. They have argued that the vote should take place next year, following the French presidential elections. However, leaders of the pro-independence movement remain confident they can build on the momentum of the previous two votes to secure their preferred result in the next referendum.

University of the South Pacific Vice-Chancellor to operate from Samoa

After a prolonged period of uncertainty and rancour, the Council of USP has decided in relation to the future of Vice-Chancellor Ahluwalia Pal. At a recent meeting, the Council resolved to reinstate the Vice-Chancellor with a new contract.

It was also announced that he would carry out his role from Samoa. Whilst USP has a campus in Apia, the main campus and administration centre for the university is in Suva, Fiji. Professor Pal and his partner were deported by the Fijian government in February.

The University of the South Pacific has confirmed that it has accepted the decision of the Council. Similarly, the decision has been welcomed by Pal’s supporters among staff and students. However, in the Fiji Parliament, the Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khayum, has called the decision illegal. He has claimed that it goes against the University’s charter.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.