Stopping the Hopping

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Voters in Vanuatu, an archipelago in the South Pacific, will decide on May 29 whether to approve two constitutional amendments that would compel their lawmakers to choose – and stick with – a single political party rather than switch in the middle of their terms.

The amendments reflect concern among Vanuatuans about the stability of their government, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Last year, the country cycled through three prime ministers due to no-confidence votes. The last prime minister, incumbent Charlot Salwai, hopes that preventing lawmakers from switching parties might bring some constancy to the capital of Port Vila.

Some voters are supporting the amendments because they at least try to address the country’s political problems.

“I wholeheartedly support the ‘yes’ vote to halt this practice, as it is a key factor causing instability and hindering development,” Lopez Adams, a businessman in Port Vila, told BenarNews, an outlet affiliated with Radio Free Asia. “Using someone to ascend a ladder and then shifting to another (party) is unethical and lacks principles.”

But critics have plenty to say about the amendments and the process that is putting them before voters. Former prime minister and parliamentary opposition leader Ishmael Kalsakau resigned from office recently, for instance, because Salwai rebuffed his suggestion to put the referendum off for a year. Voters have had only two months to consider the amendments, wrote Radio New Zealand.

The amendments will likely not function as planned, too, argued professor of comparative politics Jonathan Fraenkel at Victoria University of Wellington. Politicians will find loopholes that will help them extend or withdraw support for different leaders. Parliamentary officers like the speaker will become more politicized as they enforce these rules, too – potentially leading to new crises.

International pressures are also at play. Many Vanuatuans live in New Caledonia, a French territory where locals have staged deadly protests in favor of independence, clashing with those who want to remain part of France, wrote Asia Pacific Report. Six people have died in the protests, reported CNN, raising questions about whether Vanuatuans will be able to cast ballots.

Like other small countries in the region, powerful forces are working to sway Vanuatuan leaders to ally with the West or China, the country’s biggest creditor, noted Al Jazeera. Kalsakau, for instance, reached a security pact with Australia that his rivals said would compromise the country’s neutrality. The country could use Chinese financing for important services, for example, to relaunch Air Vanuatu, a state-owned carrier that recently filed for bankruptcy, according to the Associated Press.

But first, analysts say, the country arguably needs a strong and stable executive who can make the hard decisions necessary to grapple with these issues.

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