This week we celebrated the life of our very first Prime Minister, Fr Walter H Lini. During his 11-year reign as PM there was only one Opposition party – what we now know as the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP).
Around 1988, former Vanua’aku Pati (VP) Secretary General (SG) Barak Tame Sope formed the Melanesian Progressive Party (MPP) following his expulsion from VP and from Parliament ‘for taking part in a protest against the government’s decision to close the Urban Land Corporation’. Remember the riots of 1988 – ‘My Land, My Life’? Yes, that event. I remember that day very well as I was on holiday job at Burns Philip (downtown) when the protest march took place. Police fired tear gas on the crowd sending some jumping off the Sea Front into the sea to take cover.
In 1991 the rift within VP worsened. A fourth political grouping was born – the National United Pati (NUP). From then on, chaos! We now have an entire theatre of all sorts of movements, political parties and Independents. Everybody claims to be able to offer something better. But the realities and the unvarnished truth we know all too well. Heading your own party qualifies you for a Ministerial portfolio when a new government forms because you are a ‘Party President’, even if a one-man band one! Funny, but in Vanuatu, c’est la vie en politique.
Prime Ministership is the ultimate goal of the arena, regardless of whether or not becoming PM makes any difference to economic development and the betterment of our country. As long as we climb up to the highest rung on the political career ladder, that’s what matters most.
And besides, we’re very popular for digging each others political graves. They dig. We dig. We bury, they bury, now for 22 solid years, and counting. We resurrect our political foes only temporarily. We make friends for a short time, then betray and backstab them, or vice versa. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. We then kill innocent pigs’ lives for blood that never heals; a ritual that would very easily qualify for the violation of animal rights laws elsewhere in the world. But for us its ‘custom’ (however meaningless it may be at times). And we do it again. And again. And again. C’est notre passe-temps favori. While the rest of the world moves on! It’s a circus, that’s what this is.
‘In Politics there is Forgiveness’
The Moderates proved the sheer importance of this phrase from late Fr Lini this week at Melsisi on Pentecost, to lay aside past differences, to lay down their arms, to forgive, and to reunite. That’s the way to go. It is the route that needs to be taken by all others to help us all return to something closer to a Two-party democratic system similar to Australia and elsewhere in the democratic world, and get rid of all the ambitious, power-driven, one-man band type and small groupings that have mushroomed all over Vanuatu’s political landscape since 1991, creating nothing but chaos, unnecessary political fragmentation, and the big one – instability.
We celebrated national ‘Lini Day’ on Tuesday this week. Then what? Will this just become another annual ritual? Is Lini Day just another public holiday in Vanuatu to commemorate and to celebrate the life of our first Prime Minister, or is there something far more honourable and deeper that deserves our attention, contemplation and action?
There is a history of new beginnings and of cooperation. When the VP-led Government broke apart in 1991, something very interesting happened. A new Government was formed that year and this time headed by a Francophone Prime Minister, Maxime Carlot Korman who then joined forces with Fr Lini’s newly-formed National United Party (NUP) to run the Government.
Twenty-two years on, the Francophones show us the way again – they reunite! How about the Nationalists? The hardest part is to overcome our individual pride, arrogance and ambition. This leaves us with only one observation and a question: the ongoing disunity among Anglophone-oriented political parties in this country – when will we say enough is enough? To say the very least, it is a very interesting sight to behold. When Fr Lini and his team started preaching Independence, history says it was the French who opposed it. The British supported Independence. Today it appears to be the exact opposite. The francophones of this country are eager to reunite and drive development, while the anglophones remain disunited. Grand recipe for failure.
‘Peace is Powerful’
One of Lini’s famous quotes is, ‘Peace is Powerful.’ But five things keep hindering our pathway to peace: hunger for power, greed, pride, a revengeful spirit and selfishness. These seem to be the burning elements within that keep dividing us. Reconciliation roots in the heart and mind. If you can’t forgive and love again, you are not worthy of being called a ‘leader’, for a true leader forgives, following divine principles and more so our cultural upbringing. Other nationalists that have formed other parties should also contemplate reunification in the whole again as the Moderates have. Last but not the least, should we be trying to grow new political parties now?
New Party Growth vs Development
Some have observed that in this moment of our development history, it is not the time to be giving birth to new political parties. The challenge comes twofold. Firstly, by doing so you end up sacrificing much-needed development as party leadership spends more time trying to ‘fund raise’ to grow the party, and secondly, by going through the ‘fund raising’ process, one can succumb to corruption of all sorts.
If anything, we should be focusing all our efforts and resources now on development – not just in some islands but in the entire country. When funds for development are misused to entertain party growth, development suffers – as we’ve seen in some islands in the very recent past.
It is too late in the evening of our development history to be taking these kinds of risks. Nothing’s wrong with the two founding political parties. What needs improvement is the leadership. When the outgoing Prime Minister of New Zealand felt it was time to step aside, she took the humble yet honourable decision and did so. Our chiefly systems have also laid down that very same history for us. Old leaders step aside, and they facilitate the crowning of their replacements. Unfortunately that has not been the case in Vanuatu’s political life for many years. Some tend to think leadership is some kind of lifetime inheritance.
Ultimately the question still stands: Will the Nationalists lay aside petty differences and Unite, or Not?
The Distant Voice is a weekly column focusing on various aspects of life and development in Vanuatu.
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