Tuvalu’s pro-Taiwan leader loses in closely-watched national election

Tuvalu’s pro-Taiwan leader loses in closely-watched national election

The pro-Taiwan prime minister of the Pacific Islands nation of Tuvalu has lost his seat in an election closely-watched by China and the US, according to the results on Saturday.

Kausea Natano, the micronation’s incumbent prime minister, had pledged Tuvalu’s support for Taiwan, its diplomatic ally since 1979.

One of the three remaining Pacific allies of Taipei, Tuvalu has a population of 11,200 spread across nine islands after another micro island Oceanic nation Nauru cut ties this month with Taiwan and switched to backing Beijing. China has pledged more developmental help and aid to the Oceanic micronations.

In south Asia, Maldives has also started shifting its diplomatic proximity to China over India, a decades-old ally which has also offered it military aid and support.

The results for the Tuvalu city Funafuti released by an election official on Tuvalu TV showed that Mr Natano did not retain his seat.

Finance minister Steve Paeniu, who had called on to review Tuvalu’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan after Friday’s election, has returned unopposed in the Nukulaelae island electorate. He is set to form a coalition among elected lawmakers to run for prime minister.

Mr Paeniu has said the issue of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China should be debated by the new government.

"Our last government under Prime Minister Natano had extensive internal discussions about it upon the commencement of our term in government to determine our policy stance on it, so undoubtedly the new government would need to look at the matter and decide its policy position accordingly," he said on Saturday, as the results favoured his return and securing him a seat in the new parliament.

The Oceanic island which is increasingly threatened by high seas does not have any political parties in its parliament, where two lawmakers are elected in each of eight island electorates.

Mr Paeniu is trailed by another leadership candidate in the fray, Enele Spopaga, who has called for support for Taiwan but instead wants a security deal with Australia to be called off.

The lawmakers are set to vote next week to pick a prime minister in a meeting at a time notified by the governor general, Tuvalu’s election commissioner Tufoua Panapa said.

"We will have a clearer picture by next week – as we need to bring elect-MPs to the capital island, from the outer-islands," he said. The boat journey can take up to 27 hours.

With growing tensions between China and Taiwan, Beijing has been gathering regional support in south and southeast Asia among its allies. It previously courted Tuvalu in 2019 where it had offered to build artificial islands in return for switching ties.

A wider contest for influence in the Pacific between China and the US as Washington recently pledged the first submarine cable to provide Tuvalu with global telecommunications.

Earlier this month, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement several Tuvalu officials and politicians had congratulated Taiwan on its presidential election results and "and reiterated their position on the continued firm defence of the friendship between the two countries".