The Republic of Vanuatu gained independence on 30 July 1980 and adopted a Westminster style parliamentary political system. Since then, the country has experienced a series of direct elections, which include national general elections, provincial elections and municipal elections. Additionally, there is an elected 22-member Malvatumauri National Council of Chiefs, which has a solely advisory role in areas relating to Melanesian indigenous values, custom and tradition. The law provides for the holding of national referendums in order to amend the Constitution, but to this day no referendum has been conducted in Vanuatu.
Vanuatu has 52-member unicameral national Parliament, which is elected using a combination of Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) in multiple-member constituencies and First Past the Post (FPTP) in single member constituencies. In both systems, candidates run as individuals for parliamentary or provincial council seats in their constituencies. Voters cast their vote for one candidate. The candidates with the most votes win the seats. There are 18 national constituencies, six of which are single-member and 12 being multiple-member (from two to seven members).
Elections are also held in each of the six provinces, to elect the provincial assemblies (local government councils). These assemblies are elected, once again using a combination of FPTP in single-member constituencies and the SNTV system in multiple-member constituencies (the number of constituencies vary per province), following the model of the national parliamentary elections.
Municipal elections are held in the two urban centers of the country, Port Vila and Luganville. Municipal elections are held in four wards in each constituency (all of them multiple-member). In the past, the electoral system used to be held using a proportional representation (PR) system, but in 2018 the SNTV system was adopted. Temporary special measures have been introduced for the municipal elections, with a 30% quota for women in Port Vila and Luganville municipal councils.
The electoral framework of Vanuatu consists of the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu (1980), the Representation of the People Act (1982), the Municipalities Act (1980), the Decentralization Act (1994), the National Referendum Act (2004), including their respective amendments and subsidiary legislation (regulation).
The Constitution, signed on 5 October 1979, provides for all matters relating to democracy, its institutions and elections. The 1980 Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, assembly and association and participation in elections. The Constitution includes several important provisions related to elections and campaigns. Important constitutional articles related to elections include that voting (“the franchise”) is universal, equal and secret; the fact that, subject to any conditions or restrictions established by Parliament, every citizen of Vanuatu who is at least 18 years of age is entitled to vote; that political parties may be formed freely and may contest elections. Article 17 deals with the election of members of Parliament, who are elected on the basis of “universal franchise” (everyone is allowed to vote)
The Representation of the People Act (RPA) is the main electoral law in the country, approved in 1982 and amended several times since. The Act and its amendment set out in more detail, the basic rules related to elections and includes several “schedules” that provide more detail on specific aspects of the elections. The “schedules” include, among other things, stipulations on the electoral authorities and their functions, as well as the processes pertaining to the registration of voters and the manner in which members of Parliament are to be elected.
Both local government and decentralization are enshrined in the Constitution. The legal basis for the provincial elections (to elect “local government councils”) rests, besides the Constitution, in the Municipalities Act, the 1982 Local Government Election Rules and its amendments as well as the 1994 Decentralization Act and its amendments.
The 2004 Referendum Act and its amendment establish the basic modalities for national referendums. Among them is the provision that whatever option regarding the proposed constitutional amendments receives a majority of valid votes (50% plus one vote) cast in the referendum shall be deemed approved.