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Solomon Islands’ pro-China PM fails to secure majority

25-04-2024

HONIARA: The Solomon Islands election has delivered no clear winner leaving pro-China Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in a race with rival opposition politicians to form a coalition to lead the Pacific island nation.

Solomon Islanders voted a week ago in a closely fought campaign that was the first since Sogavare switched diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing in 2019 and later agreed upon a controversial security pact with China.

Election results on Wednesday showed Sogavare’s OUR party won 15 out of 50 seats in the national parliament, while major opposition parties secured 20, and independent and micro-parties 15.

United party leader Peter Kenilorea Jr, who has promised to switch ties back to Taiwan, and Democratic Alliance Party leader Rick Hou told the Reuters news agency the situation was fluid as politicians lobbied independents to secure the 26 seats needed to form a government.

Analysts previously told media that while the international community might be focused on China relations, Solomon Islanders were more concerned with “bread and butter” issues such as the cost of living, health and education.

Sogavare, who was narrowly re-elected to his seat, said he remained in control of the country, and security.

“I exercise full executive power when it comes to security, when it comes to safety of this country, I continue to run the country,” he told the Tavuli News in an interview, saying he was concerned about possible riots.

Honiara was rocked by rioting in 2021 when protesters targeted businesses in the capital’s Chinatown and tried to storm Sogavare’s residence. Peace was restored with the help of a contingent of Australian police following a request from the government.

Sogavare said his party had the support of two micro-parties, and would woo independents, claiming the opposition parties were divided over who they would back as prime minister.

“There’s huge competition on the other side, something will break,” he said.

The CARE coalition of Matthew Wale’s Solomon Islands Democratic Party, U4C and former Prime Minister Rick Hou’s Democratic Alliance Party is on 13 seats.

Kenilorea Jr said his party, which won seven seats would “align with like-minded groups”.

The Solomon Islands has a population of 760,000 people across hundreds of islands, and the period after elections can be tense as politicians try to cobble together a governing coalition.

Police and defence forces from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are assisting with election security, at the invitation of Sogavare’s government.

Police put down a minor outbreak of violence between two villages on the island of Malaita over the weekend that was caused by an election result.

In November, 2021, Australia deployed more than 70 security personnel to the Solomon Islands’ as two days of violent unrest continued to escalate in Honiara, the capital.

Responding to a formal request from Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Australia’s Scott Morrison announced the deployment on Thursday.

Riots began in Honiara on Wednesday morning, with protesters arriving on the steps of Solomon Islands’ national parliament demanding the prime minister’s resignation. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)

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