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Vanuatu parliament votes in new prime minister

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Vanuatu appointed a former deputy premier as its new prime minister Friday, the South Pacific nation’s parliament voting him in unopposed at its first sitting since snap elections last month.

Ishmael Kalsakau’s rise to the top job came after his predecessor, Bob Loughman, had parliament suspended to avoid a vote of no-confidence, taking the tiny island nation to the polls.

Kalsakau takes over at a crucial time with the economy of Vanuatu, which relies heavily on tourism, still in recovery after being badly hit by Covid-19 travel restrictions.

He must also navigate China’s push to improve its influence in the Pacific, which has seen Washington launch a diplomatic counter-offensive.

Louhgman told parliament his Vanua’aku Pati would not put forward a candidate.

Kalsakau, the head of the Union of Moderate Parties, was then voted into office with only two dissenting voices in the 52-member legislature.

Kalsakau had been deputy prime minister during Loughman’s two-year reign. He told reporters he would outline his priorities once he had formed his cabinet.

His new coalition government is made up of eight political parties.

The dissolution of parliament by President Nikenike Vurobaravu in August led to a bitter legal dispute that was settled in Vanuatu’s top court. The nation of 80 far-flung islands then went to the polls on October 13.

Loughman’s party polled well but fell short of securing enough votes to be declared outright winners, leading to a fortnight of horse-trading.

The new parliament also contains a woman MP for the first time in 14 years, former Vanuatu football international and business co-owner Gloria Julia King.

Kalsakau is a former attorney general and is also the younger brother of Vanuatu’s paramount chief, Ifira Matoi Kalsakau.