Tuvaluan members of parliament are likely to elect a new prime minister on Friday (23 Feb) according to a senior electoral official, and a frontrunner has reportedly emerged.

Senior electoral officer Semi Malaki told the ABC that a vote is likely to occur by Friday or shortly after, as bad weather that prevented elected members of parliament from traveling to the capital of Funafuti to vote had cleared.

Feleti Teo, formerly the acting secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, had secured enough parliamentary support to be elected prime minister.

Teo’s apparent emergence as a frontrunner may allay concerns in Taipei of losing another formal diplomatic ally. Prime Minister Kausea Natano, who advocated for maintaining formal ties with Taiwan, was ousted in the election, while Finance Minister Seve Paeniu won a parliamentary seat

Paeniu had said he would review his country’s relationships with Taiwan and China if elected, and make the foreign policy choice that was best for Tuvalu.

Assistant professor at California State University Jess Marinaccio told Taiwan News that she believes Teo is a likely candidate.

“Other speculation about prime minister selection was likely to have come from external media and not from Tuvalu,” she said.

Marinaccio said she is sure the new prime minister and cabinet will discuss the issue of Taiwan.

She did not comment on what approach the new government might take, but said that “a number of people in this parliament, like Simon Kofe, are very friendly to Taiwan.”

After the election, Kofe told RNZ that factions among newly elected Tuvaluan MPs will likely form along disagreements about the country’s relationship with Taiwan, and a climate-related migration agreement with Australia.

Marinaccio said if Teo or another candidate becomes prime minister, all will take climate issues extremely seriously. “Teo has good connections in the Pacific region and internationally, which will allow him to negotiate with other countries on climate mitigation and adaptation projects if he is elected,” she said.

Teo did not publicly comment on the Tuvalu-Taiwan relationship or the possibility of switching diplomatic recognition to China if elected. As acting secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2014, he said assistance from China and others is welcomed, and added, “There needs to be discussions and appreciations of what the country needs, rather than what the development partners are interested in putting their funding towards.”

At a regular press briefing on Thursday, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said that Taiwan maintains close communication with Tuvalu and that all candidates for the prime minister’s office highly value the Tuvalu-Taiwan relationship.

The ministry provided a further statement to Taiwan News that said Taiwan will “continue to deepen the friendship and bilateral cooperation with the new members of parliament and people from all walks of life in Tuvalu, including Member of Parliament Feleti Teo.”

The month-long delay between the general election and the parliamentary vote for a prime minister had been caused by bad weather in the country, which is made up of small islands. Elected MPs have been unable to travel to Funafuti to vote, though senior electoral officer Semi Malaki told the ABC on Thursday that there had been a break in the weather.

Malaki said that the last four newly elected MPs are expected arrive in the capital on Friday afternoon, after which a vote can be held. “If it is Friday, the Governor General will issue a letter regarding the time and the place, (but) I don’t have information on that,” he said.

Malaki said that Tuvalu’s governor general, who holds the power to call a vote for prime minister, had considered taking the vote remotely, but the recent turn in weather saw that option ruled out.

Meanwhile, Taiwan Foreign Ministry responded positively to media inquiries on Thursday regarding recent political developments in the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jeff Liu addressed concerns of Tuvalu’s possible diplomatic switch from Taipei to Beijing, emphasising that the known elected candidates all support the maintenance of the friendship between the two island nations.

The ally country held its parliamentary elections in late January, but severe weather delayed election results by two weeks as boats were prevented from bringing members of parliament to the capital to cast their picks for prime minister. All voters were expected to have arrived on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning and will convene to vote for a prime minister at a time set by the governor general.

The Foreign Ministry said that after the new prime minister is elected, Ambassador Andrew Tung-heng Lin will maintain close contact with the new government. Discussions on how Taiwan will participate in the inauguration ceremony are currently being held.