Vanuatu elects new prime minister as country reels from devastating cyclone

Bob Loughman, an MP from the island of Tanna, will become the next prime minister of the south Pacific nation

Vanuatu’s parliament has elected a new prime minister more than a month after the country went to the polls, as the country is reeling from a devastating category-five cyclone and preparing for a potential coronavirus outbreak.

Bob Loughman, an MP from the island of Tanna, will become the next prime minister of the south Pacific nation, after defeating the former foreign minister Ralph Regenvanu in a vote in parliament on Monday, by 31 votes to 21.

Loughman is the leader of the Vanua’aku Pati – one of the oldest political parties in Vanuatu – which secured seven out of 52 seats in elections held on 19 March.

Elections are held every four years in Vanuatu and it is extremely rare for a party to win a majority of seats, meaning that governments formed in the country are almost always a coalition of parties.

Loughman has been in the Vanuatu parliament since 2004 and has previously served as minister for education and minister for trade and tourism. He also served as deputy prime minister for a period of time under the former prime minister Charlot Salwai.

His coalition government will include two other major parties, as well as a raft of independents and micro-parties.

Loughman’s government will be required to hit the ground running, after a tumultuous month for the country, which has a population of nearly 300,000 people.

The country declared a state of emergency in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, restricting business activity and travel and imposing a curfew on residents.

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in the nation, but there are fears that were coronavirus to reach Vanuatu’s shores, its health system would very quickly become overwhelmed.

The country also bore the brunt of the passage of Tropical Cyclone Harold in April. The category-5 storm wreaked damage and destruction across much of the north of the island group and killed three people.

While some assistance has reached the affected communities, humanitarian efforts have been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic and many people remain without adequate shelter and are at risk of running out of food.


Tess Newton Cain

The GuardianTramp

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