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Pastor wins race to be Vanuatu’s new president

Vanuatu elected a pastor as its new president Thursday as the tiny pacific nation eyes continued “moral leadership” following the sudden death of its former head of state last month, local media said.

Tallis Obed Moses, a Presbyterian and clergyman most of his life, was sworn in after winning 39 votes against former prime minister Maxim Carlos Korman’s 17 votes, the Vanuatu Daily Post told AFP.

He replaces Baldwin Lonsdale, an Anglican priest who was elected to the presidency in 2014 but died of a heart attack in mid-June in the capital Port Vila.

“It came right down to the last vote,” the Post’s Dan McGarry said of the nail-biting finish, which followed three rounds of voting and involved 16 candidates.

Religion plays an important role in Vanuatu, whose 270,000 population is largely Christian, with the majority Protestants and about 12 percent Catholic.

McGarry said support for Moses stemmed from a desire for “moral leadership”.

“He is well-regarded within his community and within the church. He is somebody to whom the nation will be looking for a degree of moral leadership.

“Our constitution says that the office of the president symbolises the unity of the people… and there are occasions when that becomes a very important issue.”

The electoral college consists of 52 members of parliament and six provincial presidents. Voting in the fourth and final round included one absentee and one invalid ballot.

Although the president’s role is considered largely ceremonial, Lonsdale became a symbol of hope for Vanuatu when Cyclone Pam caused severe damage in early 2015.

Six months later he steered the country through a political crisis when half the government of prime minister Sato Kilman was convicted of corruption, making them ineligible for office.

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