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Reports from HPR's political reporter Wayne Yoshioka

Pacific News Minute: Update on Political Crisis in Vanuatu

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For some time, now - we've been reporting on the political crisis in Vanuatu.  About a quarter of that country's parliament is in prison, after 14 Members of Parliament were convicted of bribery and the Supreme Court resolved a constitutional crisis. The latest, from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

All 14 convicted MPs were supporters of Prime Minister Sato Kilman.  Five served in his cabinet and by law - all of them were forced out of office when they received sentences longer than two years. On Monday, the 14 were all denied bail and their appeals are set to be heard next month.

The opposition called on Prime Minister Kilman to, as a statement put it - do the honorable thing and resign.  Instead, the Prime Minister asked President Baldwin Lonsdale to dissolve parliament, which would mean a snap election - perhaps the only way he might remain in power.  Opposition leaders pointed out that they now control a parliamentary majority, protested the expense of fresh elections and worried that many voters may have lost their election cards in cyclone Pam.

Either way, analyst Jenny Hayward Jones of the Lowy Institute finds silver linings. She told Radio New Zealand that “While the failings of Vanuatu's political process and many of its politicians have been exposed, the rule of law has prevailed. Vanuatu's courts are strong”, she said “Its president is strong enough to say no and is above the law."

In that context - it's worth quoting Judge Mary Sey as she handed down the sentences to 14 members of parliament. "You were given power and authority”, she said." With Power and authority, comes an obligation of trust. You betrayed that trust, and in the cause of doing that, you undermined the very institution it was your duty to uphold."

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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