Vanuatu is a republic with a non-executive presidency. The President is elected by Parliament together with the Presidents of the regional councils and serves a five-year term. The single-chamber Parliament has 52 members, directly elected every four years by universal adult suffrage with an element of proportional representation. Parliament appoints the Prime Minister from among its members, and the Prime Minister appoints a council of ministers from among the MPs.
The constitution provides for a certain amount of decentralisation, intended to promote regional autonomy and local participation. In 1994, the 11 local councils were replaced by six provincial governments. The district councils of chiefs elect the National Council of Chiefs, which is consulted, and makes representations, on customary law and traditional factors affecting government.
In October 2004, Parliament passed constitutional amendments designed to reduce political instability. These amendments included banning no-confidence votes in the first and last 12-month periods of a parliamentary term and, after the first 12 months of a term, required a by-election in any constituency where the member crossed the floor. Before taking effect these amendments were to be put to the electorate in a national referendum.
From 1991 political life in Vanuatu has been characterised by coalition governments with fluctuating support and the splitting off of political parties.
The May 2002 general election saw coalition partners Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) and Vanua’aku Pati (VP) comfortably returned to power, the UMP with 15 seats and the VP with 14, while Willie Jimmy’s National United Party (NUP) took eight. The victorious partners put VP leader Edward Natapei forward to be Prime Minister, with Serge Vohor – whose UMP had won the most seats – his deputy. During 2003, relations between the NUP and the government improved, but despite some discussion on its joining the coalition, the NUP continued in opposition.
During 2004 the presidency changed hands several times before an early general election in July 2004. A coalition of NUP (with ten seats) and VP (eight) emerged from the election with the most parliamentary seats, UMP having secured nine seats. However, when the Parliament convened, some VP members crossed the floor and Serge Vohor of the UMP was elected Prime Minister. In the fourth round of the subsequent presidential election, Kalkot Mataskelekele emerged as President. In December 2004 a no-confidence vote went against Vohor, and Ham Lini, NUP leader and brother of former Prime Minister Father Walter Lini, was elected Prime Minister.
In the general election of September 2008 the VP won 11 of 52 seats and NUP eight. These two parties agreed to work together and VP leader Edward Natapei was elected Prime Minister – with the support of 28 MPs. He was opposed by Maxime Carlot Korman (the candidate of the Vanuatu Republican Party) who received 24 votes.
At the end of President Mataskelekele’s term, in August 2009, Korman, the Speaker of Parliament, became acting President. Presidential elections were held by Parliament in September 2009 and Iolu Johnson Abbil was elected in the third round.
In December 2010, while he was travelling to the UN Climate Change Conference in Mexico, Prime Minister Natapei lost a parliamentary no-confidence vote (15–30), and the leader of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and of the opposition Alliance bloc in Parliament, Sato Kilman, was sworn in as Prime Minister.
On 24 April 2011, following a parliamentary no-confidence vote against Kilman and his cabinet, Serge Vohor of the UMP was elected Prime Minister by Parliament. Then on 13 May 2011, when the Court of Appeal ruled that Vohor’s election was unconstitutional, Kilman was restored to office. On 16 June 2011, after the Supreme Court had ruled that Kilman’s election in December 2010 had also been unlawful, Natapei was appointed to lead a caretaker administration until a fresh parliamentary vote was held on 26 June 2011, when Kilman defeated Vohor (29:23) and resumed as Prime Minister.
On 19 November 2012, in the parliamentary vote that followed the general election of 30 October, Kilman defeated Natapei (29–23); to be re-elected Prime Minister at the head of a new coalition government. Although Natapei’s VP had won eight seats in the election and Kilman’s PPP six, Kilman secured the support of the majority of the members of the new parliament, who represented a total of 16 parties as well as a number of independents, and included no women.
Facing a motion of no confidence in Parliament, Prime Minister Kilman resigned on 21 March 2013 and Moana Carcasses Kalosil was elected unopposed by 34 members of parliament to succeed him on 23 March.
Prime Minister Kalosil was defeated by Joe Natuman in a no-confidence vote on 15 May 2014 (40–12) and Natuman became Prime Minister.
During September 2014, on completion of President Abbil’s term of office, presidential elections were held by Parliament. Baldwin Lonsdale was elected in the eighth round of voting on 22 September.
On 11 June 2015 Prime Minister Natuman was ousted in a no-confidence vote (27–25) and Sato Kilman elected Prime Minister by Parliament. He defeated Ham Lini (28–22).