The Leaderboard: Sato Kilman

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific.

Who is he?

Sato Kilman, 57, is the new prime minister of Vanuatu. He is assuming the post of prime minister for the third time in five years.

Kilman most recently served as foreign minister to the man he ousted from office—Joe Natuman. Kilman was removed as foreign minister on June 5 for breaking with the government’s official policy, in particular its strong support for a West Papuan separatist group’s bid to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

Sato Kilman. Source: The Commonwealth’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Sato Kilman. Source: The Commonwealth’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Why is he in the news?

Prime Minister Kilman came to power on June 11 after Parliament passed a no-confidence motion removing his predecessor Joe Natuman from office. Three government lawmakers joined the opposition to pass the motion ousting Natuman, after which Kilman defeated fellow parliamentarian Ham Lini in a 28 to 22 vote to become prime minister.

Within days of his coming to power, opposition lawmakers filed a motion of no-confidence against Kilman. They allege that a change in government will hamper efforts to recover from Cyclone Pam, which devastated Vanuatu in March. Lawmakers are expected to debate that motion on June 18.

What can we expect from him?

If he survives the pending vote of no-confidence, Kilman can be expected to act quickly to reassure constituents he can manage the Cyclone Pam recovery effort. The storm caused damage equivalent to 64 percent of Vanuatu’s gross domestic product. The Natuman government faced growing complaints that it mishandled the recovery, and Kilman will likely attempt to increase the pace of recovery and better manage the funds Vanuatu has mobilized from international donors.

On foreign policy, Kilman is expected to strike a different tone with respect to West Papua. His support of West Papuan membership in the MSG has been more muted than his predecessors Moanna Carcasses and Joe Natuman, and his ascent to power has pleased the Indonesian government. However, many members of Kilman’s new government are very supportive of the West Papuan cause, and his policy going forward will need to balance these differing positions within his own government.

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