Funafuti, the main island of the nation-state of Tuvalu, is photographed from a Royal New Zealand Airforce C130 aircraft as it approaches the small South Pacific nation.
SYDNEY – Voting began Friday in the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, in a national election that could have repercussions from China to Australia.
With a population of just over 11,500, Tuvalu is one of the smallest countries in the world, but the election for the 16-seat parliament was closely watched. After the votes are counted, a new government is formed in parliamentary negotiations and the prime minister is elected. Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. and were scheduled to close at 4 p.m
Prime Minister Kausea Natano is running again, but even re-election to parliament does not guarantee him the top job.
Finance Minister Seve Paeniu is challenging him and opposition leader Enele Sopoaga hopes to become prime minister again after losing to Natano in the 2019 election.
The elections come at a time when China, the United States and others are vying for influence in the strategic region.
Tuvalu, a British colony until 1978, is one of only 12 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that China claims as its own territory.
But China has pushed these Taiwanese allies to change their alliance. So far, Natano has rebuffed Beijing, but that could change after this election. Nauru, another small Pacific nation, recently shifted its support from Taiwan to China.
Paeniu said he wanted to review Tuvalu's relations with both Taiwan and China.
Global warming is another major problem, with Tuvalu's low-lying atolls regularly flooded.
A proposed security treaty between Tuvalu and Australia could also be on the rocks. The treaty commits Australia to assist Tuvalu in the event of major natural disasters, health pandemics and military aggression. The treaty also gives Australia veto power over any security or defense agreement Tuvalu wishes to enter into with any other country, including China.
Debate over the treaty has been contentious and it has yet to be ratified. Sopoaga said he would turn it down.