Edward Natapei first became involved in politics in 1982 when the member of Parliament (MP) for Futuna resigned his ministerial position after his disagreement with Walter Lini alienated his constituents. Natapei later went on to become a health minister and a parliamentary speaker.
Edward Natapei, president of the VP, became prime minister on 13 April 2001 as a result of a motion of no-confidence brought against the government of then Prime Minister Barak Sope. The motion followed months of controversy surrounding the Sope government's dealings with Asian businessman Amarendra Nath Ghosh. Early in 2001, the defection of several members of Parliament from Sope's government gave the opposition led by Natapei a majority. When the Sope government called for Parliament to be dissolved and for national elections to occur, the opposition called for a vote of no-confidence. The speaker of the Parliament, Paul Ren Tari ruled to not allow the motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Sope to go forward, and delayed the vote for three weeks; however, Chief Justice Vincent Lunabeck ordered the speaker to reconvene Parliament and allow the motion of no-confidence to go forward. Hours before the vote, Sope attempted to declare a state of public emergency but the police commissioner refused. The vote, finally held on 13 April 2001, was successful, 27 votes to 1, and Edward Natapei was made prime minister. On 7 May, Tari suspended the prime minister and deputy prime minister and closed Parliament. When the Parliament reconvened a week later, Paul Ren Tari was removed from his position as speaker, and suspended from Parliament for seven months for his actions during the country's political crisis.
In 2001, the Natapei government held only a two-seat majority. His Vanua'aku party was in coalition with the Union of Moderate Parties, while the opposition was made up of the National United, Melanesian Progressive, Vanuatu Republican and Green parties. Within days of his taking power, rumors spread that some of his newest supporters were considering changing their allegiance; however, his majority held and Natapei praised the country for weathering the political crisis without violence. He pledged the goals of his government to be media freedom, transparency, and a commitment to structural reform.