The Leaderboard: Joe Natuman

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific.Who is he?

Joe Natuman is the newly-installed prime minister of Vanuatu. He was educated at the University of the South Pacific, and served as private secretary to the country’s first Prime Minister, Walter Lini. In 1995, he was elected member of parliament for Tanna, and has been minister for Judicial Affairs, Education and Internal Affairs. Natuman has also served as minister of foreign affairs, and during his tenure he stopped the sale of diplomatic passports, which had occurred often under former governments.

Joe Natuman of Vanuatu. Source: Wikimedia, used under a creative commons license.

Joe Natuman of Vanuatu. Source: Wikimedia, used under a creative commons license.

Why is he in the news?

Joe Natuman became Prime Minister of Vanuatu May 15 after former prime minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil lost a vote of no confidence. Natuman won 40 of 52 votes in the subsequent motion to install a new prime minister. He was the only nominee for the post. Former prime minister Carcasses faced multiple votes of no confidence since taking the position in March 2013, but his ouster surprised many observers.

What can we expect from him?

Prime Minister Natuman wants to go “back-to-basics” and wants Vanuatu to “live within [its] means”. Natuman is concerned that previous governments have overspent, leading them to take drastic action such as selling citizenship and passports. The prime minister also stated he would review the financing of a plan by a Singaporean company to build a new international airport. It is likely Natuman will strive to get the country’s finances in order, with a strong focus on development and good governance.

On the foreign policy front, Natuman has been a steadfast supporter of the West Papuan independence movement, and will likely use his new platform to advance the cause. Indeed, the West Papua Coalition for Liberation immediately indicated their support for Natuman. However, newly appointed foreign minister Sato Kilman is known to be far more pro-Indonesian. Kilman in fact brought Indonesia into the Melanesian Spearhead Group as an observer when he was formerly prime minister of Vanuatu. If Natuman can keep Sato in check, Vanuatu’s foreign policy will likely become distinctly more pro-West Papua.


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