Tuvalu votes in new parliament

By Samisoni Pareti

Lobbying for Tuvalu’s next prime minister has begun in the island capital following the completion of the country’s general elections yesterday.

Whether incumbent Enele Sopoaga is going to return as Prime Minister, it won’t be known until the new parliament sits next week. He won his seat comfortably in Monday elections, amassing the most votes in his home island constituency of Nukufetau. Sopoaga polled about 36% of total votes cast to win one of 2 parliamentary seats in the constituency. While he has no trouble retaking his seat, four of his colleagues in the last parliament were not so fortunate. 

Deputy Prime Minister in the previous Sopoaga government, Matia Toafa lost his seat in Nanumea. Also losing his seat in the same constituency was Satini Manuelia, who was minister for health in the previous government. Toafa was finance minister in addition to being Deputy PM.

Taukelina Finikaso was the other former cabinet minister who lost his seat. He held the foreign affairs portfolio in the Sopoaga cabinet and his loss in the Vaitupu island constituency ends a long career as a politician.

Also unsuccessful was Otinielu Tausi, the Speaker of the previous parliament. He was voted in as Speaker by the Sopoaga government, but leaned towards the opposition camp by the end of his term. 

Sopoaga himself is still out in his home island of Nukufetau, and reports from Funafuti say he won’t return until Wednesday this week. This is when the government inter-island ferry, the Nivaga is due back in the capital with election officials and winning MPs from the other island constituencies.

While it is generally expected the incumbent will make a strong bid for the top job, sources in Funafuti say yesterday’s elections have provided some other strong contenders for the prime ministership.

Among them is Simon Kofe, a young but very experienced lawyer who easily won his seat in Funafuti constituency. He was part of the loose group of opposition MPs under the previous parliament, and had served as the country’s Senior Magistrate before entering politics. Other possible contenders for prime minister include a former ambassador to Taiwan, a former head of the regional customs organisation and a former permanent secretary in government.

A date is yet to be set for the sitting of the new parliament next week, which will see the election of a new speaker before the election of prime minister takes place.