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Vanuatu lawmakers elected Sato Kilman as the nation’s new prime minister Monday after a court upheld a vote of no-confidence against his predecessor, who had attempted to forge closer ties with allies of the US as the latter vies with China for control of the Pacific region, Reuters reported.

Last month, the archipelago nation was gripped by a political crisis when opposition parties lodged a no-confidence vote against then-Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau for a series of actions, including signing a security pact with Australia.

Opposition lawmakers said the pact compromised Vanuatu’s “neutral” status and could risk the development assistance it receives from China.

The opposition secured 26 out of the 49 votes, but the parliamentary speaker determined that they had fallen short of the minimum 27 votes required for a successful motion in the 52-member legislature, according to Radio New Zealand.

Legislators then appealed the decision to the courts, which last week ruled in their favor. The speaker then brought the matter to the country’s Court of Appeals, which upheld the no-confidence vote on Monday.

That verdict brought an end to Kalsakau’s tenure and triggered the election of the new prime minister.

Kilman, who previously served four terms as prime minister, told lawmakers that he would begin reviewing the country’s foreign policy and seek new export markets.

Vanuatu and a number of Pacific countries have been embroiled in a tug-of-war for influence in the vast region between China and the United States.

The US and its allies have been seeking to persuade Pacific Island nations not to establish ties with Beijing after the latter signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in early 2022.

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