[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 July, 2004, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
People of Vanuatu go to the polls
By Phil Mercer
BBC correspondent in Sydney

Map of Vanuatu
A general election is taking place in the South Pacific Vanuatu archipelago.

The poll was called after the coalition government of Prime Minister Edward Natapei lost its parliamentary majority following a number of defections.

Mr Natapei's Vanua'aku party is expected to do well in the election, because it has fought a joint campaign with the National United Party.

Vanuatu, formerly known as the New Hebrides, became independent in 1980 after joint rule by Britain and France.

Frustration and problems

Vanuatu has endured a year of political turmoil.

In May, with the government facing a motion of no confidence, the acting president dissolved parliament at the request of Prime Minister Natapei.

Although Mr Natapei's party is expected to do well in the elections, there are a record number of independent candidates, which observers see as a sign of frustration with the mainstream parties.

More than 220 contenders are fighting for 52 parliamentary seats.

Vanuatu - a chain of 83 islands - lies just over 2,000km north-east of Sydney.

The majority of its population of 200,000 people are Melanesians, with some Polynesians as well as small Chinese and Vietnamese communities.

The islands have been spared the type of civil unrest which has affected neighbouring countries such as the Solomon Islands and Fiji.

Despite this, Vanuatu has had its problems.

It was forced to reform its fiscal systems after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned it could face sanctions if lax taxation regimes were exploited by criminals for money-laundering.

There were also attempts to destabilise the nation by supporters of the former Prime Minister Barak Sope, who was jailed over a forgery scandal two years ago before receiving a presidential pardon.

Country profile: Vanuatu
16 Jun 04  |  Country profiles


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific