10/12/2022, 16.45
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Vanuatu goes to the polls amid Sino-US rivalry in the Pacific

Some 49 international observers will monitor Vanuatu’s snap election, with Australia, the United States and Japan closely following the process because of the local government’s close ties with China. Almost 220 candidates are running for 52 seats. The Supreme Court dismissed a recourse against the dissolution of parliament after the government called an election to avoid a vote of no confidence.

Port Vila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Voters in Vanuatu will go to the polls tomorrow to elect a new parliament. Almost 220 candidates are running for 52 seats.

In order to avoid a vote of no confidence, the government dissolved parliament in late August and called a snap election, a move resisted by the opposition, but the petition it filed with the Supreme Court was dismissed.

In June, opposition leader Ralph Regenvanu had accused Prime Minister Bob Loughman of making "dangerous amendments" to the country’s constitution, including holding elections every four years rather than five.

Made up of 80 islands with a population of some 300,000, Vanuatu is the Pacific country with the closest ties to China; for example, its only newspaper is available in Chinese online.

“China has always spared no effort in providing assistance to Vanuatu with no political strings attached,” wrote the China Daily when the two countries marked 40 years of diplomatic relations last April.

“The assistance has effectively boosted Vanuatu's development, improved people's livelihoods and widely won praise from all walks of life in Vanuatu.

China has built the country’s parliament building, a sports field, a convention centre and several infrastructures as well as promoted “Vanuatu's agriculture and tourism development.”

In July 2021, more than 30 officials from five Vanuatu political parties took part in a virtual summit organised by the Chinese Communist Party, while in June this year the Chinese Foreign Minister visited Port Vila, the capital, to boost economic ties between the two countries.

When US President Joe Biden held the US-Pacific Partnership summit last month at the White House to counter Chinese, Vanuatu’s caretaker government was represented only by its  ambassador to the United States.

Some 49 international observers, including some from Australia, China, and Japan arrived in the country today to monitor the election.

Tomorrow's vote will include radio livestream, thus continuing a transparency measure adopted in 2020 elections during the pandemic, when international observers were not allowed into the country.

Australia has provided funding to help Vanuatu distribute election material and equipment in the various islands.

Canberra has also expressed concerns over Beijing’s growing regional presence after China and the Solomon Islands signed a security agreement this year.

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