Aerial view of the Rock Islands of Palau. Photo: AFP

Businessman Surangel Whipps is set to become Palau’s new president after his only rival on Friday conceded defeat in the Pacific island nation’s election.

Candidate Ray Oilouch said that on the latest figures from Tuesday’s poll he could not overtake Whipps, the brother-in-law of outgoing president Tommy Remengesau. 

As of Friday, Whipps had a lead of 1,202 votes in the tiny nation of 20,000, which is one of the few places in the world that remains Covid-19 free.

“The election is over and the people have spoken. So let me first congratulate president-elect Surangel and all those elected to lead our next government,” Oilouch said.

“We did the best we could but I guess God has other plans for us. Be proud of what we did,” he added.

Remengesau is standing down after serving two four-year terms, during which he kept the country closely allied to Taiwan and the United States amid a push by China to increase its influence in the region.

Whipps, Remengesau’s brother-in-law, is expected to retain existing foreign policy priorities.

While on the campaign trail, Whipps urged Taiwan to provide more support to Palau, one of only 15 nations worldwide that offer Taipei diplomatic recognition.

Palau, an archipelago about 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) east of the Philippines, closed its borders in March to keep out the Covid-19 virus.

It was one of several Pacific island nations that isolated tehemselves, despite the economic cost, with fears that its poor health infrastructure would make it particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.

As a result, the remote island nations and territories of Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are believed to still be free of the virus.

The Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands registered their first cases in October.