New government in Vanuatu

The people of Vanuatu have a new government. The members of the 13th legislature were sworn in on Friday morning. Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau of the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) was elected Prime Minister. He secured 50 of the available 52 votes with no opposing candidate.

Kalsakau was Deputy Prime Minister in the previous government led by Bob Loughman and has also been Leader of the Oppostion. Before entering politics he was the Attorney-General.

The Prime Minister announced his Council of Ministers later that day. Political veteran and former Prime Minister Sato Kilman takes on the powerful role of Deputy PM and is also the Minister for Lands.

A highlight of the installation of the new government was the arrival of Julia King who was elected as a member of the UMP. She was elected to the position of third Deputy Speaker during Friday’s proceedings.

Duelling donations to police in Solomon Islands

Last week saw another development in the tussle for influence in Solomon Islands.

The Australian government donated equipment to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF). The handover consisted of 60 MK18 rifles and thirteen new vehicles.

Two days later, the RSIPF received more donations, this time from the government of the People’s Republic of China. This donation consisted of two water cannon trucks, 30 motorcycles and 20 cars.

This new equipment aligns with the government’s wish for greater police capacity after the riots of twelve months ago. However, it has alarmed some in the community. Many remember the days of the Tensions when police armouries were raided by rival militias. One of the first tasks given to RAMSI was to round up stolen police weapons and destroy them. Others are concerned that if there were to be protests or civil disorder again, that these assets would be used against Solomon Islanders.

Marshall Islands membership of PIF clarified.

Whilst the bulk of the attention relating to quitting the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) was on Kiribati, the status of Marshall Islands has only very recently been resolved.

When the ‘Micronesian Five’ announced that they were withdrawing from the PIF in early 2021, the Nitijela (parliament of Marshall Islands) passed legislation to give effect to that. Since then, the Kabua government has indicated clearly that it wishes to remain in the PIF.

However, it was only in the last little while that the necessary legislation was passed to reverse the 2021 position. The government has confirmed its acceptance of the contents of the Suva agreement. It has also acknowledged the undertakings made by the PIF and its Secretariat, including the establishment of an office in the Northern Pacific.

There is still no indication that Kiribati will return to the PIF fold although efforts to bring that about will continue.

Leading independence activist dies in West Papua

West Papuan peoples and their supporters are reeling from news of the death of Filep Karma. Karma was the highest profile independence activist to have been jailed by the Indonesian authorities. His body was discovered on a beach in Jayapura.

Whilst it appeared on first discovery that he had died in a diving accident, there have been calls for an investigation into the full circumstances. Karma was a master diver.

Karma was described as West Papua’s “Nelson Mandela” by Benny Wenda, a leading voice in the movement for self-determination for the people of West Papua. Karma had been imprisoned twice by the Indonesian authorities for raising the Morning Star flag, which is considered to be an act of treason. He was imprisoned in 2004 and then released in 2015.

Thousands attended Karma’s funeral and the Morning Star was displayed prominently in defiance of Indonesian law.


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