News Item

​Vanuatu in mourning for president

News 23 Jun 2017

Vanuatu is in mourning after its President Baldwin Lonsdale (pictured) died suddenly at the age of 67. Mr Lonsdale, an Anglican priest who was appointed to the largely ceremonial role in September 2014, died in Port Vila, the Pacific Island nation's capital, early on Saturday, June 17.

He was fare-welled at a state funeral and procession in the capital Port Vila on June 21.

A life of service

Baldwin Jacobson Lonsdale was born on Mota Lava, in the Banks Islands, in 1950.

Before becoming president, Mr Lonsdale was a civil servant who served as the Secretary General of the province of Torba on the island of Mota Lava.

He later became an Anglican priest.

Mr Lonsdale was occasionally referred to as Womtelo Reverend Baldwin Lonsdale - the title of Womtelo, which literally means rising sun, is the highest rank within the customary system of chiefly grades of his native island Mota Lava.

In 2014, Mr Lonsdale was elected president in an indirect election by an electoral college consisting of members of parliament and provincial governors.

The vote took eight rounds; the longest ballot in the country's history, and in the last vote, Mr Lonsdale received 46 votes of 58 possible satisfying the two-thirds majority requirement.

Mr Lonsdale was the second Anglican priest to be elected president.

In his first speech as president, Mr Lonsdale stressed the importance of the appointment for the province of Torba, promised to uphold the constitution, and asked the people of Vanuatu to stand united.

In 2015 Mr Lonsdale begged the world to help his country rebuild after Cyclone Pam, blaming climate change for extreme weather patterns affecting his people.

Meanwhile, in October 2015, while Mr Lonsdale was abroad, Speaker of Parliament Marcellino Pipite used his position as Acting President to issue a 'presidential pardon' to himself and 13 other MPs who had just been convicted of bribery and were awaiting sentence.

Returning to Vanuatu only hours after the pardon was issued, Mr Lonsdale expressed his sorrow at what had happened and gave a widely welcomed speech declaring that nobody is above the law and that he would “clean the dirt from his back-yard".

After consulting with legal experts and other leaders, Mr Lonsdale revoked the pardon, citing the articles in the Vanuatu constitution which oblige leaders to avoid conflicts of interest and avoid bringing their integrity into question.

Mr Lonsdale's decision was upheld by the Vanuatu Supreme Court.

The much-loved former President will be remembered for serving the people of Vanuatu with dignity and humility.