Voters to elect new president in virus-free Palau

·2-min read
The Pacific island nation of Palau -- one of the last coronavirus-free countries on earth -- is set to choose a new president on Tuesday
The Pacific island nation of Palau -- one of the last coronavirus-free countries on earth -- is set to choose a new president on Tuesday

Voters in Palau head to the polls Tuesday to elect a new president for the tiny Pacific nation, one of the few places in the world to remain coronavirus-free.

President Tommy Remengesau is standing down after serving two four-year terms, during which he kept the country closely allied to Taiwan and the United States amid a push by China to increase its influence in the region.

Both candidates vying for the top job -- Vice President Raymond Oilouch and businessman Surangel Whipps Jr. -- are expected to retain existing foreign policy priorities.

If elected, their goals will be keeping the country of 20,000 coronavirus-free and minimising the economic pain induced by closing borders and shuttering the tourism industry.

Whipps, the favourite to win after recording a strong lead in a preliminary round of voting, has urged Taiwan to provide more support to Palau, one of only 15 nations worldwide that offer Taipei diplomatic recognition.

Oilouch has said he believes aid and investment should be encouraged from all sources, including both the United States and China.

"Palau has no enemy," he said on the campaign trail.

Preliminary results from the election should be known late Tuesday, although if the vote is close it could take a week to tally absentee ballots and determine Palau's new leader.

Palau, an archipelago about 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) east of the Philippines, closed its borders in March to keep out the virus.

It was one of several Pacific island nations to isolate themselves, despite the economic cost, with fears that its poor health infrastructure made it particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.

As a result, the remote island nations and territories of Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are believed to still be free of the virus.

The Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands registered their first cases in October.

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