This dialogue piece provides an ethnographic account of the 2008 election campaign in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Focusing on the seemingly exceptional campaign and victory of Ralph Regenvanu, it is argued that current analytical perspectives on "Melanesian-style" politics misplace the role of culture in political activity in Vanuatu, treating it as a hindrance to the realization of an implicit ideal of "acultural" parliamentary politics. This serves to both dehistoricize and decontextualize the electoral participation of ni-Vanuatu. It is argued that ethnographic investigation of election campaigning produces a more nuanced picture of both continuous and novel aspects of political engagement. Particular attention is given to the production of policy over time, and the ways in which leadership is manifested and judged in the context of elections. This allows us to understand Ralph's success as embedded within ongoing civil society politics in Vanuatu and dependent on public discourses regarding the legitimacy of leadership, rather than viewing it as an anomalous victory over "culture."
The Contemporary Pacific – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Feb 12, 2012