SYDNEY (AP) — Prime Minister Kausea Natano reportedly lost his seat in parliament in elections on the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu.
The election for the 16-seat parliament, which could have implications for China, Taiwan and Australia, saw eight newcomers win seats, according to Radio New Zealand. The report couldn't be independently confirmed.
Tuvalu, with just over 11,500 people, is one of the smallest nations in the world. But the election has gained international attention because Tuvalu, a British colony until 1978, is one of only 12 countries that have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that China claims as its territory.
Natano is a supporter of Taiwan. Another contender for the top job, the reelected Finance Minister Seve Paeniu, has said he wants to review Tuvalu’s relationships with both Taiwan and China.
The elections come as China, the United States and others wrangle for influence in the strategically crucial region. But China has been putting pressure on supporters of Taiwan. Nauru, for instance, another small Pacific nation, recently switched its support from Taiwan to China.
After the election, the next step is parliamentary negotiations to form a new government and elect the prime minister.
Enele Sopoaga, who is hoping to again be prime minister after losing out to Natano after the 2019 election, was also reportedly reelected.
Global warming is another big issue for the island nation, as Tuvalu’s low-lying atolls routinely flood.
A proposed security treaty between Tuvalu and Australia could also hang in the balance. The treaty commits Australia to help Tuvalu in response to major natural disasters, health pandemics and military aggression. The treaty gives also Australia veto power over any security or defense-related agreement Tuvalu wants to make with any other country, including China.
Debate on the treaty has been divisive and it has yet to be ratified. Sopoaga has said he would reject it.
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