Vanuatu set for snap elections after court ruling

Critics say the abrupt dissolution of Parliament in early August was engineered by Vanuatuan PM Bob Loughman. PHOTO: AFP

PORT VILA, VANUATU - Vanuatu will hold snap elections next month, after a court on Friday ruled that the president's contentious decision to dissolve Parliament two years early was legal.

The country's Supreme Court has upheld the abrupt dissolution of Parliament in early August, which critics say was engineered by Prime Minister Bob Loughman to avoid a vote of no confidence that he may have lost.

Chief Justice Vincent Lunabeck dismissed a case brought by the opposition, who argued that the dissolution of Parliament by President Nikenike Vurobaravu was based on unconstitutional and unlawful advice from Mr Loughman's Cabinet.

The decision means the country is heading towards the polls, with a date already set for a general election on Oct 13 - two years earlier than expected.

"We have the view that the right of the people of Vanuatu to democratically express their views in the elections of the new parliament has to be the priority," Mr Lunabeck said in giving his verdict.

Mr Loughman was not in court to hear the decision, but his spokesman Fred Vurobaravu welcomed the ruling.

"The government believes that the best option (going) forward is to reset through the snap elections," Mr Vurobaravu said, adding there would be "no guarantee for stability" had the court sided with the opposition.

"This decision today is interpreted by the government as a win for the national and common interest over personal interests."

Mr Ralph Regenvanu, the former leader of the opposition, is considering appealing Friday's ruling, which he warned could have repercussions for democracy in the Pacific nation.

"We wanted a different decision as we hoped to squash the dissolution and go back to Parliament to finish the work still left, but court has upheld the dissolution and we will respect it," he said.

"We are worried about the precedent... We will wait to thoroughly study the written judgement and see if we want to appeal the decision or just proceed with the snap elections."

In June, Vanuatu announced agreements with China - following Mr Loughman's meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the capital Port Vila - that deepened economic ties.

Pacific nations have come under intense scrutiny amid high China-US tensions, with Beijing seeking to increase its security and trade presence in the region. AFP

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