WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Some political stability appeared to be returning to Vanuatu Saturday following the arrests of 11 renegade lawmakers who last week created a constitutional crisis when one of them pardoned himself and 13 others from corruption convictions.
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale on Friday took steps to reassert his authority in the South Pacific nation by revoking the 14 pardons. Within hours, 11 of the men had been arrested and incarcerated on suspicion of conspiracy to defeat the course of justice, according to the Vanuatu Daily Post.
The newspaper said the arrests were sparked by a meeting 11 of the convicted lawmakers had before issuing the pardons. Three other convicted lawmakers didn't attend the meeting, according to the newspaper.
The intrigue began Oct. 9 when the Supreme Court found Parliament speaker Marcellino Pipite and 13 other lawmakers guilty of bribery. A judge said many had accepted bribes of 1 million vatu ($9,000) to help overthrow the previous government.
But the next day, Pipite signed a pardon for himself and the others. Because the president was traveling abroad, Pipite was the acting head of state at the time.
Pipite told reporters he'd signed the pardons in order to maintain stability in the nation of 275,000 people. But the move angered many people in Vanuatu, who had hoped the verdicts would mark an end to the corruption which has plagued the country's political system.