If you’re not entirely certain about the details of the national referendum, or the question for that matter, you are not alone.

There is a good number of the population who are still on the fence regarding this national ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ day and what it entails, so here is an explanation on what the fuss is about regarding the big day on the 29th of May.

What is the referendum?

The referendum is to vote yes or no to an addition to the Vanuatu constitution of Articles 17A and 17B, and also the inclusion of Chapter 7’s – The Executive article 43 subsection 3 to limit motion of no confidence.

So, three points:

  1. 17A
  2. 17B
  3. Subsection 3 of article 43 (Daily Post, 16 Jan 2024)

Quick fact for article 43 under Chapter 7 – The Executive (of the Vanuatu constitution), article 43 only has two subsections:

  1. The Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to Parliament. (Vanuatu Constitution, Consolidated Edition 2006)

 2. Parliament may pass a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister. At least 1 week’s notice of such a motion shall be given to the Speaker and the motion must be signed by one-sixth of the members of Parliament. If it is supported by an absolute majority of the Members of Parliament, the Prime Minister and other Ministers shall cease to hold office forthwith but shall continue to exercise their functions until a new Prime Minister is elected. (Vanuatu Constitution, Consolidated Edition 2006)

What is 17A and 17B?

Summarized verbatim from electoral office website

Article 17A will ensure that members of political parties elected to Parliament must continue to support their parties after being elected, for the relevant term of Parliament. If political party members resign from their party during this period or their party membership is terminated for withdrawing support from their political party, their seat in Parliament will be declared vacant.

Article 17B will ensure that independent candidates and single member political parties elected to Parliament must affiliate with a political party after being elected and continue to support that political party for the relevant term of Parliament. If independents or single members of political parties do not affiliate with another political party, then they will be deemed to have vacated their seat. If they do affiliate with a political party, but subsequently withdraw support from their political party during this period, their seat in Parliament will be declared vacant.

How does this benefit the people and country?

If YES wins, members of parliament and political parties will have policies with severe consequences if one decides to defect and “cross the floor” to join another party.

By default, this creates a type of stability that keeps MPs in their parties and ensures the longevity of a single government, therefore, initiatives and projects planned by the incumbent government can roll-out without hinderance.

100-day plan goals can be achieved, manifestos of politicians that got them elected can be honored and MPs can have more time to focus on the needs of their people rather than the security of their employment.

International optics would be in favor of stability as well, foreign investors would feel more comfortable investing in a country that is practicing the tenets of democracy and portrays stability. Regionally, Vanuatu would be in a position to host forums, chair meetings and bid for sports events because of a well-functioning government.

All in all, good things.

What if No wins?

MPs will continue to practise the freedom awarded to them in article 43 of the constitution, freedom to join other political parties and push motions of no confidence when they see fit.

While these defections could promote instability, it also could be a learning curve for MPs to appreciate their positions and know that they could be replaced when they’re not actively performing their duties.

But the decision rests with the individual. All eligible voters will have their own arguments to make on why they are choosing yes or no.

Why have a referendum?

In Chapter 14 of the constitution labelled ‘AMENDMENT OF THE CONSTITUTION’,

Article 84 stipulates:

  • A bill for an amendment of the Constitution may be introduced either by the Prime Minister or any other member of Parliament.

Article 85:

  • A bill for an amendment of the Constitution shall not come into effect unless it is supported by the votes of no less than two-thirds of all the members of Parliament at a special sitting of Parliament at which three-quarters of the members are present.

Article 86:

  • A bill for an amendment of a provision of the Constitution regarding the status of Bislama, English and French, the electoral system, or the parliamentary system, passed by Parliament under Article 85, shall not come into effect unless it has been supported in a national referendum.

Chapter 14, article 84 and 85 have both been done and now on the 29th of May, article 86 will be exercised.

What don’t we know?

  1. The referendum question still hasn’t been formulated.
  2. If an MP is replaced via termination or otherwise, will runner-up in his constituency take his place?
  3. Follow-up to no.2, will this be part of the May 29 referendum question or will another referendum need to take place to cater for these extra amendments or inclusions?
  4. What happens when a president of a political party decides to defect and join another party, will he lose his seat or will the members of his group who decided to remain lose theirs?
  5. How many members make a political party? If two, can they still cross the floor as a party of two and create instability?
  6. Can a referendum have more than one question? Is there a limit?

What is a referendum (Oxford Dictionary explanation)?

Definition – a general vote by the electorate on a single political question that has been referred to them for a direct decision.

The referendum awareness has begun, Daily Post encourages all voters to make well-informed decisions and Daily Post will continue to educate all readers on the ins and outs of the country’s first national referendum.

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SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST