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Vanuatu’s 2024 Referendum: The Path to Political Stability?

Vanuatu will be holding its first national referendum on 29 May 2024. The impetus for the referendum, and the proposed changes to the constitution, is to bring political stability to the nation following a prolonged period of rapid changes in government and votes of no confidence.


The changes


The referendum will present voters with two key constitutional amendments:




Article 17A - Vacation of seat where a member of Parliament resigns or is terminated for ceasing to support a political party

It mandates that members of Parliament must remain members of their respective political party throughout their entire term.

The President of a political party must inform the Speaker of Parliament within 14 days after a member of Parliament either:

(a)    resigns from their political party; or

(b)    is terminated as a member of that political party because they no longer support the party.


The Speaker then must within 7 days, declare the seat of that member vacant.

Article 17B - Vacation of seat of an independent member

It requires:


(a) independent members;

(b) the only member representing a political party; and

(c) a member representing a customer movement.


to affiliate with a political party for their entire term in Parliament.

These members must inform the Speaker of Parliament within 3 months of being elected which party they are affiliated with. The seat will be declared vacant if the member fails to do this. 


The President of a political party must inform the Speaker within 14 days after any of these members is no longer affiliated with that political party.


The Speaker then must within 7 days, declare the seat of that member vacant.

How it works  


If Parliament wants to amend the Constitution in Vanuatu, a bill for the amendment must be introduced either by the Prime Minister or another member of Parliament.[1] That bill cannot come into effect unless:


  • two-thirds of all the members of Parliament vote in favour of it; [2] and

  • if the amendment relates to national languages, the electoral or the parliamentary system, it has been supported in a national referendum.[3]  


In December 2023, the Parliament of Vanuatu unanimously passed the Constitution (Eighth) (Amendment) Act 2023 which sought to amend the Constitution to insert Articles 17A and 17B. The amendments have also recently been signed off by Vanuatu President Nikenike Vurobaravu,[4] however despite approval by Parliament and presidential endorsement, the Articles still require majority public support in order to validate and legitimise the constitutional changes and ensure that they are effective. The Vanuatu Electoral Commission has confirmed that the referendum will only require a simple majority of votes to pass.[5] 


Vote counting is scheduled for 7 June 2024, with results expected to be announced on 10 June 2024.


What are the effects?


It remains to be seen what the effects of the constitutional amendments will be if it is passed. There are hopes and expectations that it will increase political stability and strengthen the party system by limiting votes of no confidence and frequent changes in government caused by members switching allegiances or acting independently. It is also thought that it will increase the accountability of members who would be forced to align more closely with their party’s policies and decisions.


Notwithstanding the above, there are concerns within the constituency and beyond that the amendments may have a negative impact instead:


  • (Democratic Rights) Prohibiting members from changing their political allegiance or otherwise face losing their seat may be incompatible with democratic principles.[6] This could have a deterring effect on members from acting independently, expressing a dissenting opinion or exercising the freedom afforded to them under the Constitution to join political parties and push motions of no confidence when they see fit.


  • (Political Stability) The amendments may not address the root causes of instability, and if passed may create other forms of instability and partisanship. For example, the Articles give increased powers to party presidents (who are not required to be elected members) and the Speaker (who is a political appointee of the Prime Minister) to make important decisions in relation to members.[7] These powers could be open to abuse.


  • (Practical Effectiveness) There is a great deal of uncertainty around how the changes will work in a practical sense, giving rise to potential loopholes that could be capitalised on by crafty politicians and therefore create an even more highly politicised parliamentary and electoral environment.[8]   


[1] Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu, Article 84.

[2] Ibid, Article 85.

[3] Ibid, Article 86.


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