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State structure

The Republic of Vanuatu achieved independence from Great Britain and France on 30 July 1980. Since then it has been a member of the South Pacific Commission and some 30 other international organisations.

The capital Vila is the seat of the government. The parliament consists of 50 members elected by universal suffrage for four years. The Prime Minister and often eight or nine ministers form the government. The ministers must be members of parliament.

The head of state is the president elected for five years and chosen by an electoral college made up of members of parliament and the presidents of the six provincial governments (provinces: Malampa, Penema, Sanma, Shefa, Tafea and Torba).

There is also a National Council of Chiefs (Malfatu Mauri). This council advises parliament on Vanuatu's traditional customs. For the current political situation see History section.


Vanuatu has a dual education system dating back to the colonial period. The primary schools all follow the same programme, but teaching is either in French or in English. Bislama is spoken during playtime. The language that is not learnt in primary school is learnt as a second language during secondary school.

About 55% of the pupils receive anglophone education, 45% receive French education. In some areas, both English and French are taught. An attempt is being made to develop a single education system. Approximately 90% of the ni-Vanuatu children attend primary school. Due to lack of space, only 35% of these children can start a further education. Vanuatu has three higher education institutes, the Malapoa Teacher College, the Tagabe Agricultural School and branches of the University of the South Pacific in Vila and Santo.

Legal System

The legal system of Vanuatu is based on British law. Most cases are heard by the police court. Very important cases are heard by the Supreme Court. Above that is a Supreme Court consisting of three judges appointed by the President and sometimes drawn from other South Pacific countries. At a lower level, there are also six island courts run by tribal leaders. They handle simple cases, such as differences in interpretation of local customs and traditions and disputes over land ownership.


Melanesians believe that they are raised by their land just like flowers and plants. Families are allowed to use certain pieces of land, but never to sell them. The rights to these pieces of land go back to the first ni-Vanuatu who settled on the islands. The easiest way to get more land is to marry someone from another clan. Rights to reefs and moorings for boats are regulated in the same way. The boundaries are determined by the exact spot where their ancestors landed.

When Europeans arrived, this system of traditional property rights was soon in danger of being diluted. Since independence, only "kastom" owners and the government have the right to own land. Other islanders and foreigners can only lease land for up to 75 years, the productive life of a coconut palm.


O'Byrne, D. / Vanuatu
Lonely Planet

Stanley, D. / South Pacific Handbook

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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