Dissolution is no solution

An increasing number of people are coming to the conclusion that the only way out of the current political impasse is via dissolution of Parliament. While it may prove to be the only workable option, that doesn’t mean it’s what we need, let alone what we want.

Prime Minister Kilman finally spoke to the people of Vanuatu Monday, confirming that he had asked the President for Parliament to be dissolved on the 16th of October.

The President had already made his perspective clear: Dissolution must be seen as a last resort.

He’s not wrong. Contrary to Mr Kilman’s protestations, it is within the President’s purview to defer—if not outright deny—such a request. Presidential powers are largely ceremonial, but they’re deliberately vague precisely because he is expected to exert a moral influence on the country and its leadership, especially under extraordinary circumstances.

In Vanuatu today, our circumstances are nothing if not extraordinary.

Dissolution is a defeat. It is an admission that Parliament has failed to do its job.

That may be the case. But if it is, then we have a duty to ask: How do we keep the next Parliament from making exactly the same mistakes? What assurance do we have that we aren’t just setting ourselves up for repeated failure?

Fundamental legislative and even constitutional reforms are necessary before we can completely extricate ourselves from this quagmire. But in order for those to happen, we need a demonstration of political will. And that is why the people of Vanuatu need to see an end to the seemingly unending stream of pettiness and venality that lies at the core of our current impasse.

And we need to see it now.

Even today, MPs are still manoeuvring for ministerial posts. Our Speaker of Parliament won’t resign his role even from his jail cell. The Prime Minister leads only a dwindling rump of MPs and still feels he has the means to govern.

Serge Vohor, who unfortunately never seems to take his own advice, famously said that MPs need to go back to school to learn shame. The Economist agreed this week, saying: “Few elected politicians match the audacity of those who govern Vanuatu.”

The Prime Minister is right to protest that his colleagues must be considered innocent until they have exhausted every legal option. Even in the face of their attempt to short-circuit that process with illegal pardons, the presumption of innocence is their fundamental right.

But the national interest is bigger than a politician’s individual rights.

In every other representative democracy in the world, politicians under a cloud step down until they’ve cleared their name. The reason is precisely because personal and public interests are at odds at such times.

The fact that all of our MPs seem to be confusing political interests with the national interest is a scathing indictment of our political culture.

And that is why dissolution is not a solution. If all it does is give another kick at the can to the same old crop of politicians with the same old ideas, what assurance do we have that anything will ever change?

Parliament needs to meet and to resolve its differences. And Government needs to do its job—specifically, to pass a budget—in order to restore our increasingly tenuous faith. And that’s not possible if Parliament is dissolved.