Winds of change in Vanuatu

This morning the trusty Pacific Beat podcast from Radio Australia gave preliminary results from the general elections of 2 Sept. in Vanuatu. Sadly, a quick web search has not yielded any sites that carry this breaking news, and the Vanuatu Daily Post has still not yet been updated, so I cannot link my patient and probably dwindling readers to anywhere relevant or informed.

However, the PB’s man on the ground in Port Vila reported that the preliminary counting indicates that Ralph Regenvanu, who was the former (extraordinary) director of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and more recently a  member of the National Cultural Council, as well as a good friend and colleague, obtained at least 2,000 votes within the Port Vila district (6 seats up for grabs in this, the nation’s capital). This may not seem like much, but is huge when one considers that the usual voting numbers for candidates in a large electoral district within Vanuatu don’t normally breach the 1,000 vote mark.

In other words, by Vanuatu standards Ralph has made a historic and clean sweep of it and has thereby positioned himself to become one of the most outstanding political figures and quite possibly national leaders of Vanuatu in the coming years. Given the rot, sclerosis and overall two-party immobility that used to characterise Vanuatu politics until very few years ago, this is nothing short of amazing, and I want to use this very humble and brief space to salute Ralph and send him my most heartfelt well wishes.

On a more analytic note, it is very refreshing to confirm that, notwithstanding the fact that an urban electorate such as that of Port Vila will tend to be diverse, cosmopolitan and probably more open to young, educated and dynamic candidates, Ralph’s achievement provides some very compelling arguments against the tired myth about Melanesian communities and electorates tending to vote for “big men” candidates who act as providers and distributors of political favours and goodies. In point of fact, what this probably indicates is that, given the chance, people in the Melanesian islands actually can and WILL vote with their heads and not as faceless “traditionalist” collectivities. Of course, there are nuances for and against this comment, but I want to keep it brief, and so leave any debate open to whomever wants to reply to this post.

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