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Pro-China PM retains his seat in Solomon Islands election

Electoral officers count votes from the general election in Solomon Islands, where pro-China Prime Minister Manasseh is reported to have retained his seat
Electoral officers count votes from the general election in Solomon Islands, where pro-China Prime Minister Manasseh is reported to have retained his seat - Copyright AFP Saeed KHAN
Electoral officers count votes from the general election in Solomon Islands, where pro-China Prime Minister Manasseh is reported to have retained his seat - Copyright AFP Saeed KHAN

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was set Saturday to retain his seat in elections, local media reported, paving the way for the pro-China leader to try to form a government.

Sogavare is one of China’s most loyal friends in the South Pacific and has vowed to deepen ties with Beijing further if he returns to power.

He will soon travel to the capital Honiara, where his team will begin bartering with other MPs behind closed doors in the race to form a ruling coalition.

The election on Wednesday, billed as Solomon Islands’ most important in a generation, was seen in part as a referendum on China’s place in the “Hapi Isles”.

Sogavare fended off four challengers to retain a parliamentary seat he has held for more than 20 years, according to provisional results reported by the nation’s public broadcaster.

The 69-year-old has championed deeper links with Beijing since coming to power in 2019, when he severed longstanding diplomatic ties with Taiwan. 

That decision partly fuelled a wave of anti-government riots that tore through the Chinatown district in Honiara. 

Violence returned in 2021, when angry mobs tried to storm parliament, torched Chinatown and attempted to raze Sogavare’s home.

The centrepiece of Sogavare’s embrace was a 2022 security pact that has seen rotating teams of Chinese police deployed in the archipelago.

The United States, which is keen to balance Chinese influence in the Pacific region, said Friday it “stands ready to continue its close collaboration with the Solomon Islands’ elected leaders and people”.

There was no reference to Sogavare in the statement, issued by State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, which instead congratulated the nation on conducting an “orderly and efficient election”.

– Influence concerns –

Regional governor Martin Fini, who oversaw the swift expansion of Chinese interests on the island of Malaita, earlier lost his re-election bid, according to the election commission.  

The province of Malaita refused for years to accept aid or investment from China, bucking the trend as Beijing’s influence expanded across the rest of the sprawling archipelago to Australia’s northeast.

That changed when Fini was installed as the province’s premier in 2023, replacing the popular Daniel Suidani. 

Fini recently signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s Jiangsu province but his failure to retain his seat puts that agreement in doubt.

Beijing’s embassy in Solomon Islands has praised Fini’s “firm support” of China, promising to pave his province with better roads and provide it with better internet.

Suidani was one of the rare provincial leaders who refused to cash China’s cheques, fearing Beijing’s goodwill would one day come with strings attached.

Indicating he would now seek to reclaim the premiership of Malaita, the most populous of Solomon Islands’ nine provinces, Suidani said the pursuit of closer ties with China had contributed to Fini’s downfall. 

“The people here in Malaita don’t agree with the ruling government for the past 12 months,” he told AFP on Friday.

“All of these things contributed, including the signing of the provincial relationship with Jiangsu.”  

Suidani’s provincial government was so concerned about China’s sway that it blocked telecoms giant Huawei from building desperately needed cell phone towers on the island. 

“That is something that is very concerning — the influence of the (Chinese Communist Party) in this country,” Suidani told AFP this week. 

Suidani was ousted as Malaita’s premier after losing a no-confidence vote in early 2023. 

He has long suspected China of working behind the scenes to orchestrate his removal. 

Solomon Islands is currently counting votes for both provincial and national elections. 

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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